All posts by Francesco Barbera

Our Judgments Are About Us

If I’m feeling critical and judgmental about someone, it means I’m in a lousy state of mind. My thinking and perceptions are imbalanced.  I am not seeing things clearly and with perspective.

Critical judgments and the feelings they bring – constriction, anger, indignation – are indicators that our thinking has gone astray, that we are not grounded.

Of course, it doesn’t look that way.

Our judgments always look justified and based on facts, rather than skewed perception. From our lousy state of mind, we project lousy motives.  People’s actions look intentional.

But our imbalanced feelings do not lie. They tell us what’s really going on, which is that we’ve lost our bearings.

When our psyche self-corrects (which it always does naturally), a more balanced perspective will come in, and we will see things with more wisdom and perspective.  We will remember people are generally doing the best they can, based on the thinking they have in the moment. We will see the bigger picture and thus respond more effectively.

Of course, our judgments are inevitable. They arise in our mind unbidden, sometimes with such speed and ferocity we can’t help but respond.

In every relationship, we fall in and out of judgment on a continual basis.   We can’t control it.

But we can understand it.  We can understand what judgments mean, what they are telling us.

The question is: how do we understand judgments when they arise in our mind? Do we mistakenly believe our judgments are true and accurate? Or do we understand they are errant thoughts, a sign that we’re projecting imbalance onto others?

The former understanding – which is widespread today – leads inexorably to conflict. Since judgment arises from a skewed subjectivity, it is, by nature, divisive.

The latter understanding creates an opening for our innate wisdom to restore us to balance, love, and humility. Such understanding gives the psyche what it needs to restore us to connectedness.

I am, of course, aware there are people whose actions are indeed worthy of condemnation: people who hurt innocents, commit atrocities, betray our humanity. Are we to just ignore this?

Of course not. But if we ourselves are blinded by judgment,  we compromise our ability to respond effectively. Any form of righteous certainty tells us we have lost our way, that we would do well to pause and allow space for wisdom to point us to a more enduring justice.

 

We Are All Difficult At Times

We all have good moods and bad moods, our ups and downs, all day long.

When we’re up, our finer qualities emerge.  We are more generous, courageous, empathic and loving. Life looks good.

When we’re down – and we all get down regularly – we wrestle with difficult thoughts and feelings. We get insecure, doubtful, impatient, anxious.  And we fall into reactive behaviors and clumsy coping mechanisms.

We get judgmental or nasty, grumpy or impatient, withdrawn or defensive.  We numb out, or bury ourselves in distraction.

And then the mood passes, and the fog clears. Better feelings re-emerge, and once again, we become the person we wish we could be all the time.

But alas, that’s not in the cards. We all fall short sometimes. Maybe even a lot of the time.

And it’s good to notice and appreciate that.

It’s good to be humble about the fact that we can be difficult – let’s face it, very difficult – at times. And it’s good to understand that every single human being in our life – our family, our spouses, our partners – needs the space to be difficult at times too. It’s part of being human.

We all fall short, on a regular basis.

Recognizing this, understanding this, smooths out the rough edges. It helps us take bad moods and crappy behavior less seriously. It softens their blow, and makes it all less jarring and disturbing.

And that helps us bounce back and move on.

Just as it’s human to have our lows, it’s human to return to a better place, to recognize our foibles and be humble about them, and to be kind, generous and understanding towards others in the face of our common humanity.

There Is No Formula For Building Your Business

The world out there makes it seems like building a business should be a linear process involving some kind of formula and multi-step process. Figure out your target market, your brand, your customer avatar, etc.  I’ve never seen it work that way.

I work with startup and early stage companies and every one of them has had their own unique set of twists, turns and growing pains. Their businesses evolve in surprising and unexpected ways and on timetables that no one can really predict.

Years ago, for example, I spent thousands of dollars on a program promising to teach me how to “scale” my law business. The content made logical sense, but I resisted implementing any of it, and the end result was wasted time and money.

When I quit the program and just focused on the business, I learned there was an enormous amount of foundational work required before I could even think about scaling.  And when I started doing that work, slowly, patiently, my business got far more satisfying.  I was serving my clients well, building something with care, that reflected my values, and I was doing it at a pace that left time for my studies and training in psychology.

Years later, I read these words by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: “If you want your company to truly scale, you first have to do things that don’t scale. You don’t start with a 100 million users, you start with a few.  So stop thinking big and start thinking small.”

It confirmed the central point of this article: each of us already has, built into us, the intelligence and judgment we need to guide our work.  When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve, figure things out, in a way that it totally responsive to the circumstances at hand.  And in a way, no formula, book or

When we focus on what’s in front of us, with care and attention, our mind helps us climb a learning curve and navigate towards success.  It gives us ideas and next steps. It sends warning lights when we need to pause, and green lights when taking a calculated risk might make sense.

It helps us figure things out, in a way that it totally personal and responsive to the circumstances at hand. In a way, ultimately, that no formula, book or other person could ever replicate.

The deeper we get this, the more we slow down and rely on our grounding and intelligence to navigate the twists and turns of entrepreneurship with good judgment and common sense.  And that grounding — rather than any formula, concept, or strategy – is what makes all the difference. It is the secret sauce of effective entrepreneurial leadership.

Listening When It’s Hard

When we are arguing with another person, odds are we aren’t listening well. We are usually dealing with our intense personal feelings and defending our point of view.

But listening to what’s been said to us can actually be quite helpful.

In my heated exchanges with my wife, for example, I find (often reluctantly, mind you) there is always some validity to her complaints.

If I’m arguing, it is usually because I prefer to focus on the validity of my complaints. But if I’m being honest, I need to accept responsibility for my side of the street.

This is actual good news. When I have looked at my behavior through my wife’s eyes, I’ve always seen is ways I can grow as a husband, father and human being. And that really has resulted in a great deal of fulfilling (and humbling) personal growth.

Our partners, friends, family members, business colleagues – all of them have powerful penetrating wisdom and intelligence. All human beings without exception are powered by this intelligence.

If someone is sharing their views with you, there is, by definition, intelligence and wisdom in what the other person is saying. And if they are sharing it loudly and urgently, it is a good guess there is an important message in what they’re saying.

Now, does this mean taking what they say as gospel? Of course not; that would be relinquishing our own intelligence. Their perspective is necessarily limited and subjective, just the same as all of us.

What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to considering what your partner is saying. Doing that transforms arguments into avenues for our growth.

Doing this requires that we let go of being right and open ourselves up to seeing things in new and different ways. It means recognizing our perspective is always subjective and incomplete.

The problem with arguments is can be hard to set aside our personal feelings to look for the truth and value in what our partner is sharing.  Which is why I am not suggesting that arguments are a good idea in and of themselves. There are more helpful ways to communicate if we can manage it. It’s just sometimes we can’t.

And even then, even in the midst of righteousness and anger, there is an opportunity to listen, to open ourselves up to hearing new things.

That sliver of humility makes space for wisdom to show up.  And that wisdom is the gateway to fresh insight and a better experience.

Understanding Overreaction

We’ve all had the experience of responding to a perceived offense with an irate email, or a righteous tirade, only to regret it later, after we’ve settled down.

What felt justified in the heat of the moment later seems unwise or beneath our dignity.

Why is this? What is the broader principle at work here?

Intense personal emotions, like anger or indignation, are in-the-moment signs that our perspective has become narrow and constrained.

Our focus has become intensely personal, largely to the exclusion of the bigger picture (for example, what others are experiencing or deeper factors that may be at play). As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective.

As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective. They will also tend to provoke reactivity in the other person, reducing their capacity to act in wise or balanced ways.

Now, since the human mind has a natural tendency to self-correct, our personal reactivity will tend to dissipate and a more impersonal and balanced perspective will emerge.

Many of us intuitively grasp this.  This is why we all grasp the wisdom of “sleeping on” things.  We hit pause on the righteous tirade in favor of a response (or non-response) that reflects a more inclusive, impersonal or balanced standpoint, one that is far more likely to be productive.

Some of us, though, may resist this shift and hang on to their personal reactivity, especially if we believe the intensity and strength of the reaction is an indicator of its rightness rather an indicator of imbalance.

In fact, this root misunderstanding, which remains widespread, is one of the reasons the world remains rife with intractable conflict.

But the hopeful message is this:  left to its own devices, our mind’s natural tendency is to clear away conflict-laden thoughts and replace them with ones that reflect equanimity and understanding, which are far more productive places from which to act.

In a negotiation, for example, I may feel a surge of insecurity or righteous indignation towards my adversary.  In those moments, I understand my perspective is not entirely balanced and trustworthy, so I do not act from that place. I set aside those thoughts as best I can, knowing my mind will produce more balanced insights along the way.

I can count on that, because it is how we work as human beings.

What I’m writing about here is not a doing or technique but rather, simply an understanding. We are all prone to lose perspective on a regular basis, but we have emotional indicators that tell us when we have done so.

Recognizing the indicators and letting our minds reset is a simple way to avoid counter-productive over-reactions before we’ve considered all the angles.

We’re not always able to do this, but even when we don’t, understanding how this works enables us look back on the situation with understanding – and that too is helpful.

Forget Productivity Hacks – Just Do The Work

The self-help world is filled with ‘hacks’ to optimise our personal effectiveness. All of them rest of the dubious notion that we should override our in-the-moment judgment in favor of deliberate strategies or techniques.

To the common advice that we should focus on high-leveraged tasks that play to our strengths, while delegating those that don’t.

The idea makes logical sense, but implementing it is a different story.

In the early years of my business, for example, I bent myself into pretzels to delegate tasks to assistants and contractors, but since my business too young, I did not have a good sense of what or how to delegate. It felt forced and stressful, so I ended up retrenching and starting from scratch.

Eventually, I abandoned all concepts and started just doing needed doing, as best as I could manage. And that is what took my business to a place where hiring and delegating began to make sense.

From a performance standpoint, all of us are at our best when we immerse ourselves with a mind that’s relatively free of clutter and over-thinking. In that state, we bring a powerful instinctive living intelligence to our work.

That intelligence is responsive to the needs of the moment, it learns and adapts, it makes connections and generates fresh ideas, it brings us what we need to respond to what’s at hand. And it’s all automatic and built in.

Self-management strategies interfere with that intelligence. They fill our mind with clutter, blunt our instincts and reduce our effectiveness.

Am I focusing on a strength? Is this in my zone of genius? Should do more of this or less of that? No. We are not designed to live that way. What’s worse, it’s counter-productive.

Now that I have a team, what I delegate is part of the flow of judgment calls I make all day long. An instinctive sense of my own strengths and weaknesses and where to focus my time is built into those judgments by default, without any extra analysis on my part.

Strategies have us fumbling with self-management, instead of immersing ourselves in the work.  And it’s the work that makes the difference.

Of course, we all get stuck in our heads and experience doubt and uncertainty. We got through periods of being unsure how to proceed. We linger over decisions or question our own judgments.

That’s all perfectly normal and part of the process. So long as we stay in the game, our intelligence will help steer us through the rough patches.

Success may look in retrospect like it comes from applying formulas or techniques. That idea gets reinforced by well-meaning people who reflect on their accomplishments and offer some kind of roadmap to ease our path.

But in truth, our roadmap can only come from within, through personal engagement in our work. Progress may follow trends and patterns, but we can’t reverse engineer it. We have to live it from the inside-out.

On Productivity and Wild Goose Chases

Take a room full of people and ask how many have productive and not-so-productive days, around 100% will raise their hands.

Take the same room and ask how many wish they were more productive, the same 100% will raise their hands.

Do you see what is going on here?

We all have productive and unproductive streaks. Some days we’re clear and focused, others less so.

Rather than roll with the cycles, we tend to turn it into a problem and a project. We focus on improving our “productivity” and that focus ends up being a huge obstacle to enjoying our work and, ironically, to getting things done.

Let me expand on that.

As with all things in nature, there is an rhythm to our energy and mental life. Our minds ebb and flow from clarity and decisiveness to reflectiveness and uncertainty, from energy and exertion to rest and renewal.

Sometimes we know what to do and we move rather effortlessly into action. We instinctively prioritize what’s on our plate and tackle our next tasks and projects. At other times, we may linger on things, or our attention may drift, or we may move into general planning or reflecting, or feel unfocused or out of sorts.

Unless we understand the natural ebb and flow of thought, we may grow insecure about shifts in our productivity, question our level of self-discipline or commitment, and seek solutions to so-called “procrastination.”

Rather than just do the work as best we can, we go out and buy a book or app that will eradicate our natural “unproductive” periods, and implementing that becomes part of the to-do list (subject, of course, to the same ebbs and flows in thought).

Now, in adding systems and techniques to our workload, we further clutter our mind — unwittingly putting decisive action that much farther from reach.

The upshot is we’ve create a multi-billion dollar market for productivity tools and trainings, all to help us escape a harmless – and inescapable – fact of the human experience, while adding to the mental clutter that interferes with our natural instincts to get things done.

Personally, I’ve tried many productivity tools over the years, each time starting off with hope and promise, only to find them gathering dust a short while later.

Some might say it’s a lack of discipline – that’s what I thought for a long time. Now I know better.  Now I know it is common sense that leads us to drop these complex productivity systems in favor of just showing up and doing the best we can.

Most of us understand at a deep level that obsessive self-management is no way to live or work. We know that there is only one way to focus on the work, and that is to focus on the work. In doing that, our instinctive intelligence tells us how best to organize things to get things done.

There’s a deeper issue as well: When impose outside systems on ourselves, we not only struggle needlessly, we may miss the deeper intelligence behind the rhythms of thought, an intelligence that is working for us whether or not it’s satisfying our rational notions of efficiency.

I finished last year with a burst of activity completing a demanding client project. Early January came around and my mind unexpectedly became reflective, unfocused and curious. What’s next, it seems to be asking, as I started tinkering around with ideas.

Other work began to pile up (I occasionally berated myself for this), but I found myself placing it on the back-burner while my mind considered new initiatives and approaches to my business.

I was still working, mind you, keeping the business running, just not focused in the same way. You might even say I was procrastinating.

Inwardly, however, I knew there was some kind of reordering happening. Somehow, I was being called to consider my business with a more strategic perspective.

This period lasted about 3 weeks before I had a burst of insight into a new direction for my firm. By the end of it, I  felt literally like a different person.

Our slower periods are invitations to reflection and reevaluation, or our psyche taking the time to digest information. Slowing down, it turns out, can be one of the most powerful productivity tools around.

The good news here is while don’t control the rhythms of our productive life, what does ultimately control it is an intelligence greater than what’s available through mere rational thought.

As we come to recognize and rely on that natural intelligence, as we learn to trust in its wisdom and continual presence, as we learn to relax around this whole subject of productivity, we move into an easier and more consistent relationship with doing.

We don’t waste time on trying to productivity problems that don’t exist. We trust our slower periods and embrace our productive periods. We show up as best we can and do what’s next.

And quite surprisingly, a whole more gets done.

The Issue With “Issues”

It’s a dogma of contemporary self-help that “issues” are real things that are lodged in our psyche and that we need to actively work to dislodge them to experience well-being.

But it’s more accurate to say that “issues” are comprised of recurring thoughts that once understood as such resolve themselves through a natural self-correcting process.

Internal distress or suffering is a sign that our thinking has veered into unproductive territory. If I’m feeling anxious, worried about life, money, work, I am using the power of thought to create an anxious experience. That anxiousness is unrelated to circumstances.

That anxiousness is unrelated to circumstances, and it is not anchored to or connected to anything permanent or fixed in my psyche. In other words, as soon as my thoughts changed, so will my anxiousness.

And since thought is ephemeral by nature, and since the mind is self-correcting by nature, thoughts will change and so will our experience.

Once we understand this, we can look towards the natural capacity of our psyche to correct towards balance, clarity and deeper understanding. We stop obsessing

But when we think distress is more than a sign of temporary imbalanced thinking — when we think, for example, it is a sign of deeper “issues” or that our life circumstances are at fault — it starts to make sense to dive deeper into the difficult thoughts, to study and solve them, to examine their roots and causes.

That inquiry has us dwelling on our past, on our grievances, on our circumstances.

We can get so wrapped up in that, we forget we all have a natural process that restores us to well-being and gives us the capacity to move forward with life, without our having to “do” anything.  It’s just how we are wired.

Well-being is at the core of each of us, untarnished and unbreakable. That well-being is continually emerging for us in each moment, in the form of fresh wisdom, insights, understanding and ideas, that give us what we need to navigate life.

Yes we experience stress and suffering. But that’s how the system wakes us up and keeps us healthy. It’s how we know our thoughts are imbalanced and that it is time to look inwards, towards our innate, built-in, well-being for fresh ideas.

We can move forward, knowing wisdom and well-being are at the core of our nature and will see us through. It’s natural process, and we can count on it.

Getting Over Things Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

There’s a prevailing myth that it is hard for people to “get over” things like insults, arguments, or past injuries.  This myth keeps us stuck in struggle and conflict far beyond what is necessary.

The truth is human beings can get over things quickly, even instantly.  And knowing can be enormously helpful.

When my wife and I argue, for example, it is a relief to know when the argument ends, the warm feelings will return and there is no such thing as emotional residue.

Consider this brief anatomy of an argument.

Our own internal pressure builds or our mood drops, and the mind attaches outside circumstances to our bad feelings. Since our partner is always around, it seems he or she is the cause of our discontent, so we blame them.

Some days, for instance, a messy house is fine with me. Other days, my mood is low and the mess gets under my skin, and I make a sharp comment about it.

If my wife is in a good place, she’ll ignore the remark or understand I’m in a mood.  If she is not, though, she will defend herself, and off we go.

So you see, the argument is not caused by a messy house. It’s just a reflection of our state-of-mind in the moment.  And this is always the case.

Now here’s the key.

At some point, our psyche will naturally want to reset itself, clear itself of excess thinking and restore itself to a more balanced place.  It may take time, but in due course, our psyche moves us back towards balance and connectedness, in the same way the immune system restores the body to 98.6 degrees.

In fact, an argument can be thought of as a mental fever, where the “heated feelings” reflects psyche’s immune system hard at work fighting off infected thinking.

This healing process can be subtle, but if you pay attention, you will notice it.  You may be driving in the car, or walking about, when a warm, loving or remorseful feeling breaks through.  We get a glimpse into our partners’ struggles or motivation, we get a surge of humility about our part in things, we see things from a different or broader perspective.

This is not something that we do, like a technique.  It just happens. It is how we work as human beings.  Like a pendulum returning to rest at center, we too naturally return to rest at center, which for us means a more balanced, connected place.

When arguments arise, it helps to know what is going on.  It helps to know that beneath the tumult of our mental fever lies a warm, loving and connected place awaiting our return. It may take a while, but this internal reset is always in the cards.

We just need to trust it and go with it when it happens. When we do, we still may not necessarily agree with our partner, but perhaps we understand them more, or see our own part more clearly, or recognize that arguing is not necessarily a helpful way to address differences. We see that “problems” are not problems at all, they are just the ordinary stuff of life.

Where I think many of us stumble is in believing arguments are caused by our partners’ behavior rather than our states of mind. And when we don’t remember this, it is easy to perpetuate conflict.

We replay the perceived slight in our mind, evaluate the meaning and significance of arguments, hold on to blame and grievances, stand on pride and self-righteousness. In a sense, we recycle a misunderstanding, blaming our partners for internal agitation that is solely our own. All when the internal pressure is screaming to be released, so we may enjoy a more centered experience.

Does all of this mean persisting in unhealthy relationships or allowing ourselves to be a doormat for mistreatment? Of course not. Acting from our own good sense and well-being, we may communicate our preferences or end unhealthy relationships.  And our psyche will keep moving us back towards balance and understanding, healing and reconciliation, which is an internal experience.

When it does, we will see things from a broader perspective and recognize that fighting, while utterly human, is not necessarily all that productive.  Because there’s another option available to us, which is wait for the internal pressure to clear, for the heated feelings to dissolve, or our mood to lift, perhaps before engaging.

The deeper blessing I am pointing to here lies in knowing arguments or injuries don’t have to mean anything, except that we’ve just lost our bearings in the moment.

Knowing when they’re done, they’re done, knowing we don’t have to work to “get over” them since the psyche does that on its own, knowing it’s in our nature to be restored to a more balanced place — knowing these things has been a continual help in my relationships.  I hope it helps you as well.

Webinar: How Being Critical Interfered With My Relationships

In relationship, love can seem fragile and elusive.  One day we feel warmth and connection with our partner. The next, anger and distance.

But love, I’ve come to understand, idoesn’t come and go. It is not fragile or elusive.Love is a constant, binding, ever-present force that, like gravity, draws our psyche continually towards deeper connection, intimacy, joy and understanding.

Love is a constant and ever-present. What does fluctuates — and boy, does it — is our experience of love.

Our state of mind ebbs and flows.  Critical or dissatisfied or insecure thought gather within us, shrouding what we see and feel. In these moments, our partner seems flawed, our relationship doomed.

Unless we understand what has happened, all can seem lost.

Then what?  Then, our state of mind shifts.  Our mind restores itself to balance. Our mood flows.

Somehow we are guided from within back towards love.  We have humbling insights  — “Maybe I was too harsh,”  “I could have been more helpful or understanding,” “I see where they were coming from” — and as they arise, we regain understanding towards our partner, we recognize our flaws, we are drawn closer together in loving.

The essence of wisdom lies in allowing this natural process to take its course. And to recognize when we have strayed off course and lost our bearings.

In this webinar hosted by the Three Principles Global Community, I share how understanding these truths on a personal level transformed my relationships and dating life, made my marriage possible, and fueled a deeper and more fulfilling engagement with my work and life.

I hope you find it helpful.