Parenting: Blueberry Yogurt and The Power of Suggestion

Today I learned:

1.  Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites.  They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.

The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.

Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.

I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.

It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt:  Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom.  At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.

2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.

With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.

Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.

She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.

My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.

8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.

It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.

The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.


A Milestone Day – Reflections on Day 66 and Next Steps for the Two Things Blog

When I kicked off the two things project I set a simple goal: Learn two things a day and blog about them for 66 straight days.

This post marks my achievement of that goal. To celebrate the accomplishment, for today only, I will go past my usual two things to reflect on what I have learned from the experience and to discuss next steps for this blog.

Today I learned:

http://atabsh.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/lessons-learned.jpg

1. Be Consistent: Practice, practice, practice. I am not saying practice made me perfect, but it made me better. Looking at my early posts, one thing is clear. I wasn’t very good. With practice, I feel like I got better, or at the very least I got more confident. This led me to take more risks in my writing and at the very least helped me feel better about what I was doing.

2. Be Experimental: The most fun I had came out of trying new things.  Throwing Smurf into a conversation and finding enlightenment in the Honey Badger are just two of the things I would not have done without the blog experiment. As well, Email Free Day, The Streaming Diet and The Helping List have all improved my life in some small way.  Life gets better when you take a few risks and try new things.

3. Be an Artist: I didn’t need to buy brushes and an easel to create art, and the energy that flowed out of committing to create something new from nothing everyday felt amazing.

My behaviour also changed unexpected ways. One impact was in how I consume things.  After two months of blogging, Facebook is basically dead to me. It’s an exaggeration of course, but there is an aspect of truth to it. My consumption of media has shifted 180 degrees, moving away from passive sources and on to more active or creative forms. I was a classic Facebook lurker, visiting the site 3 to 5 times a day for several minutes just to see what other people were up to. Now I rarely visit the site – 1 to 2 times per week at most – and typically to communicate with a friend through messaging services. Instead, I now spend my internet-time reviewing sites that inspire learning and creativity.

4. Be fearless: This is easier said than done, and in truth it was an unintended result rather than an initial goal. When I launched the blog I was clearly fearful, and the emotion did not dissipate quickly. In fact, when it disappeared on day 24 I made a note of it. It was then that I realized my self-talk had shifted from “What am I going to write about today?” to “What do I get to write about today?” My post that day focussed on emotion, and at that point I finally felt fearless. Day 24 was also the first time I got up the courage to “publicize” what I was doing to people I actually know too – that is when I first referenced the blog on my personal twitter account (@darrenmcknight) and put up a link on my personal website (darrenmcknight.com).  The lesson for me?  Do something 23 times and it will finally get easier.

5. Be present: Learning facts is easy but the best lessons I learned came from listening to family, kidsfriends, colleagues and even strangers.

At the outset I found I immediately listened more closely. This in itself was a good thing, but my motivation initially wrong. At first I was trying to find a “nugget” in my conversations that I could write about. Eventually this faded away and I simply felt more engaged.  Once I stopped looking for things to learn it was easy to focus on just listening. That’s when I started to find true nuggets.

All in all, this was a planned exercise in introspection and from my perspective it has gone very, very well. So well in fact that, goal accomplished, it is time to change things up a bit…

What’s next for two things I learned today?

The journey is not over, but the pace of blog posts is changing. I will still endeavour to learn and record two things every day, but from here on out I only plan to post a new blog piece when I feel the lessons learned contain ideas that are so “big” in my journey that I should share them with the world.

How often will that be? I really have no idea, and you will notice that I make no attempt to define “big.”

I will say this though: I have thoroughly enjoyed the self-reflection and creative outlet this blog has added to my life. With that in mind, some days big might be huge and some days it might be pretty small.  Hopefully, at least, big will be entertaining…


Tears and “The Helping List”

Today I learned:

1. Tears: In addition to certain episodes of MASH, as well as the odd good news story by Global TV’s Mike McCardell, I am not above shedding a tear at my little girls’ first dance recital.

2. The Helping List: As my surgical recovery continues I am still stuck on crutches, meaning my ability to carry things remains significantly impaired. Our 4-year old has really stepped up to the plate as “daddy’s little helper,” completing all sorts of tasks she would not normally take on.  She has done this willingly, and she is very proud of herself for being able to help out.

The other night at bed time we sat down and reviewed all the things she had done to help out that day. As we talked, I wrote out “The Helping List” on a piece of paper. Even though she can’t read yet she was absolutely beaming as the list grew longer. This has continued for a couple days, and she is now excited about trying to do more and more to add to her list.

The thing to keep in mind here is this: Other than hugs and encouragement I have offered no reward. She doesn’t get anything tangible for all the help. The only thing she gets is the list itself, and how it makes her feel.

This got me thinking about how I interact with other people, and how helpful I am to family, friends, colleagues and strangers throughout the day.

If I knew I would be sitting down at the end of the day with someone to recap and write down all the good things I had done for other people throughout the day, would it change my behaviour?  I’d love to say no – I am perfect already – but obviously that is completely false. There is no question it would change my behaviour, and there is no question it would make both my life and the lives of others better. The only question then, is why not do it?


The Streaming Diet, plus Saved by the Pomodoro?

Today’s two things come via links courtesy of Daniel Pink. His book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – has been sitting near my bed for months. Now that I see all the great content on his site and twitter account (@danielpink), I might just be motivated enough to move it up in the queue.

Today I learned:

1. The Streaming Diet:

“Personal Productivity is the new Dieting”

– Daniel Pink

The central concept proposed (linked below) is that information, much like our caloric options, has proliferated to such an extent than an entirely new industry has been created to help us manage the issue. Essentially, he suggests we pile too much information on our plates now, in the same way we started to pile too much food on our plates decades ago.

A useful analogy, in my opinion, and a concerning one.

Despite a multi-billion dollar diet industry, collectively we clearly haven’t figured out food. Obesity rates continue to climb, particularly in kids.

Does the similarity between food and information mean one day ADHD will be the new Diabetes?  It’s been 72 years since McDonald’s was founded and we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the food in front of us. Certainly in the 6 years since Twitter launched the stream of cool stuff coming at us has simultaneously multiplied and become more difficult to say no to. I have never been great at turning down the chance to super-size my value meal. I am no better at avoiding the seduction of another glance at Twitter, email, RSS feeds…the list goes on.

That all said, I actually had some personal success with dieting through 2011.  My breakthrough came when I translated a trick that had helped me manage a family with two kids, full-time work and a part-time MBA program for 2.5 years. The solution was simple: meticulous planning, diarizing and recording of everything on my calendar.  In translating the idea to food this meant keeping a diary of all food intake via an app on my phone. I set no goals or dietary restrictions, but found the simple act of keeping track kept me honest and motivated. Personal drive immediately and drastically improved the quality and volume of what I consumed. In 9 months I lost about 20% of my body weight – a drastic improvement with almost zero effort.

It all makes me wonder: Could the same “diet” concept translate to managing a information overload?

This seems to me a worthy experiment. So, here is my plan:

For one week I will keep a simple but meticulous checklist recording every time I do the following things:

  • Check my work inbox
  • Check personal email
  • Review my Twitter feed
  • Navigate to Google Reader
  • Click into Google + (accidently of course, because why else would you visit a ghost town every day)
  • Check out my Facebook timeline

If, after a week, the idea seems manageable and promising I will continue my checklist in hopes of seeing if my behaviour changes over time. My working title is The Streaming Diet and March 1 (tomorrow) sounds like a natural place to start.

Link to Daniel Pink: How to Say No…Especially to Things you Want to Do

2. Saved by the Pomodoro? Keeping on task is a problem for just about everybody. If you don’t have issues with it, you probably quit reading this post somewhere in #1 above.

The question is, can a Pomodoro save us from ourselves?

Pomodoro is italian for Tomato, and apparently the shape of most simple timers in Italy, so in North America this idea might gain wider appeal as the Egg Technique (though it would not have the same marketing appeal).

The concept, via pomodorotechnique.com is simple:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

I find the concept appealing in its simplicity. I also find it appealing in that there is an app for it.

Screenshot from ITunes Canada

I’ve been an advocate of mini-breaks for years and I used them incessantly while studying to artificially “chunk” my progress.  I like the concept for work too, due to the natural tendency to allow interruptions – phone, email, open-door – to impact my ability to buckle down and keep me from critical tasks for the day.

This seems like another worthy experiment for me. I have a sense that the short time blocks might simultaneously make me more productive, and help me with The Streaming Diet that starts tomorrow.

Time to go shopping in the app store.

Link to the inspiration for this post, Daniel Pink: Can a tomato make you more productive?

Link to the “cheat sheet” on pomodortechnique.com


Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

http://i1112.photobucket.com/albums/k488/sqacct7/Topic%20Photos/Section%20B/betterthanyouquotes.jpg

Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.


Leading with Lollipops, plus Sibling Bonds

In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.

Today I learned: 

1. Leading with Lollipops:

“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”

– Drew Dudley

This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.

Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”

This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend.  It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.

The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for.  Here it is:

In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.

I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.

Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life  so I could attend the program.  Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.

Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return.  That’s leadership.

Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)

2. Sibling Bonds:

“They are with us for the entire ride.”

– Jeffrey Kluger

I have known for years that my brother just gets me.  My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.

Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.

The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”

This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?

At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.

Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling.  They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.

Time to make a phone call…

Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.