The Art of Living a Focused Life

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By JEREMY BLUME
Public Relations Executive
Co-Founder of Bearings

A richer, more effective life takes intentionality, thought, sacrifice and focus. Think of a silversmith who refines ore over and over through fire, drawing out its impurities and molding the metal with careful attention. The craftsman uses focus to bring the silver into its most brilliant and valuable state.

The art of living with focus is hard to do in our modern age. With easy access to almost limitless possibilities, our discipline of choice is put to the test. And, if we are honest, most of us will admit that unlimited options do not generally favor productivity and fulfillment.

When left unfocused, our zeal and drive can leave us overcommitted and overextended, ultimately diluting our effectiveness. By taking an edited, concerted approach, we can live with a clarity of purpose.

Streamlining our method to working and living enables us to say “yes” to the best of what makes us come alive and say “no” to that which slows us down and distracts us from the fulfillment of our mission. Each day we have opportunities with our finances, relationships, time, technology, health and resources to choose the less convoluted path.

A sharp focus on our vision for what could be and what we are wired to accomplish is immensely freeing. It gives us a filter for how we invest in our days and it establishes an understanding of what is possible. And when we under-promise, then over-deliver, we bring gratification to those we are serving.

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If you’re unclear about where and how to focus your time and energy, here are a few initial questions to ask yourself:

What am I wired to do? (fulfillment)

What do I do incredibly well? (skill)

What can I do that no/few others are doing? (distinction)

What does the world/my world need? (value)

Now that we have heard from Jeremy, we encourage you to take at least five minutes and focus on the questions above. Instead of thinking about all the distractions we can eliminate, process what it is that makes you come alive. When we set aside time to be intentional, we are able to refocus our energy and find clarity in our purpose.

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Mindset from a Founder

Our mindset can get in the way of progress. As problem solvers, when we’re in the daily grind of making ideas happen, measuring outcomes, building community around our solutions and managing cash flow, it can feel like the burden of the mission we’re pursuing outweighs the joy of bringing that solution to life. Our mindset determines our outcome. It anchors us in the possibility that things can be better. This week we will hear from different voices with different mindsets, and we hope each person challenges your thinking.
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Today we have the opportunity to learn from Dana Spinola, Founder and CEO of fab’rik, in a quick seven question interview. When our team thinks of people who inspire our work and challenge our mindset, Dana is one of those people. She works incredibly hard to create a culture of WOW in all that she does, from her company to her non-profit to her family and friends. Join us in learning from Dana.
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1)   Share what attitude or mindset means to you and why it’s important in your work and your daily life.
Mindset is how you approach your life, your day or even a challenge. When you wake up in the morning, you are either ready to take on the day or want to run from it. I feel it’s so important as a leader to have a positive mindset because it sets the entire tone and culture of the organization you are leading. When your mindset gets off track, it can easily side track everyone that is pursuing your same mission. So every once in awhile when I wake up and want to run from a day, I head to yoga, to a devotion or simply change my schedule to get reconnected so that I have a better chance of approaching my day from a mindful, thoughtful place.

2) Are you the kind of person who looks at a glass half empty or half full? Explain.
The glass is always full and almost pouring over in my mind. There is just so much beautiful opportunity every day to try to make the world a better place I can almost get lost in it. When I approach life with this perspective, it makes everything an adventure and a chance to dive in and use all the gifts I’ve been given. At fab’rik we call this our WOW culture. If we forget to put a dress in a customer’s bag, we could lose them forever OR we could look at it as an incredible chance to make a customer for life by driving the dress to her house, with a bottle of champagne and the necklace we saw her trying on. I approach my personal life the same way, if my five year old tells me he misses me and I’ve been working too much, instead of letting guilt jump in, I pick him up early from school the next day with his bike packed and spend 4 hours just the two of us.

3) How do you adjust your mindset when you come up against a challenge?
When it comes to business challenges I almost feel like the terminator in the end of the movie when he is being shot at and keeps getting back up and moving forward. I have NO idea how I do it, but honestly was made with this relentless endurance to fight for my company and everyone that works in it. However, I’m not even going to pretend I’m that strong when it comes to people and feelings. I’m a very passionate person so there are times when I feel like life just isn’t fair and get the wind knocked out of me. Thank God I have an incredible wise counsel, with my husband leading the charge, that I share so honestly with and can course correct my heart and get me back on track.

 4) What does it look like in chaos?
I think I operate better in chaos than in calm. I love when there are crazy deadlines, back to back meetings, big executive decisions to be made, 4 kids that want to play and a husband to make dinner for. That is my calm. I know that some people love a schedule, predictability and don’t like change. Things staying the same and not evolving is one of my biggest fears. I love growing, learning and adding new things to mix of my chaotic world. So figure out your happy place, your calm-even if it’s chaos, and spend time there every day!

5) How do you lead your team in this area?
I try to lead my team with transparency and honesty. I find when I pull them into my world and share that I am going through chaos, heartbreak, stress and just hard times they can relate and pull together our army and hold each other up. I used to try to figure it all out on my own, act like I had it all perfectly handled and pretend peace just oozed from my veins, but once you share with your team that you are human, it creates a bond and encourages everyone to cheer for each other and share the same. If you are going to be a leader, why not let them know what to expect in life and they too will overcome it all. I literally staged by own intervention with five members of my team to check in and see how I was leading and share what I was going through. It was terrifying until I learned they loved be able to lift me back up and get back to leading our mission.

6) What perspective do you want them to have on their work and life?
Our core values define the perspective I hope my team has on work and life…..DREAM big, HUSTLE hard, stay INSPIRED, WOW everyone and CELEBRATE the big and the little things.

7) What encouragement do you have for the Plywood Community as they work to make this world a better place?
It’s impossible to do everything but unbelievably easy and impactful to slow down long enough, look around and cheer someone else on. Every single small gesture, random act of kindness, listening ear, “you’ve got this” text, morning prayer goes farther than I ever knew. The people that stopped to encourage me along the way are the real heroes. The ones that slowed down their own ship to help mine are the ones that make this world a better place.

Plywood Pursues: A Better Board

Earlier this year, Plywood People hosted an event for non-profit leaders called Plywood Pursues: Building a Better Board.

We learned from seasoned board chairs Chris Bledsoe and Jim Dudley along with Plywood’s executive director Jeff Shinabarger, and we began with this bold statement: “The health of a non-profit organization is easily understood by the health of the board.”

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We discussed board recruitment and expectations, how to host effective board meetings and how and what board members should be giving to the organizations they are serving. It was a great evening of learning alongside others. 

The evening was made possible by our partners Sun in My Belly who provided an incredible venue and dinner for the group, and the always-amazing Kim of Holland Daze who supplied the floral decor. We hope you will join us for a future event!

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Plywood Presents is Not for Me

A few years ago, I had just hired a handful of employees at the quirky marketing company I had founded. I was pregnant with my second child, and I was living in a small town a few hours outside of our home in Atlanta thanks to my husband’s military orders.

I didn’t really know another business owner, and I sure didn’t know another young mother who was raising babies along with their business. I had no idea what I was doing.

And I was lonely.

Thanks to encouragement from a friend, I bought myself tickets to Plywood Presents that summer, an event that I most definitely did not feel qualified to attend. I didn’t feel cool enough, connected enough or successful enough to be there, but I was lonely enough, and strangely, that little bit of desperation was all I needed to overcome my insecurities.

I found myself in a room of people who shared exactly what my weary soul needed to hear, from the magazine founder on stage who talked about receiving negative feedback (oh, that’s something other people experience too?!) to the marketing employee at a non-profit school sitting next to me, telling me about her challenges communicating about a school that’s never really been done before (oh, everyone else’s work isn’t just easy?!).

The encouragement seeped in like osmosis, just sitting in that room surrounded by so many people who had ideas and experience and  –what I realized was most valuable of all – a community of people who walked alongside them.

Plywood does an incredible job of curating those who share on stage, but Plywood also draws such a unique crowd of attendees that those who are sitting in the seats around you are likely the most incredible of them all.

So if you are a dreamer, a problem solver, an activist, a leader, a world-changer, an entrepreneur … Plywood Presents is for you. But if you are a scaredy cat, a failure, a self-doubter, a “nobody”, a lonely young mother with no business experience … Plywood Presents is so very for you that I get emotional just writing this out. (Buy your ticket here, and we’ll connect you to someone else so that you’ll know at least one other person there.)

I look forward to the stories of connections and inspiration that will come from this year’s Plywood Presents. My story was one of these a few years ago. Will your story be next?

- Callie Murray, Community Manager for Plywood People

Structure for Creatives by David Choe

Meet our friend David Choe, founder of Cuz.

Rhythms are a paradox. Through the repetition of notes and sounds and beats and their intentional and specific construction, rhythms move people. It’s fascinating to think that something so methodical and structured like a rhythm can cause something so fluid like the tapping of toes and the swaying of bodies.

In my world of strategy and design and creative work, rhythms often look like process. Creative people hate the idea of processes and structure, but without them there’s almost too much to consider.

For example, when someone tasks you with creating a brand, the thought of it is daunting. Where do you even start? This is when rhythms and process often come into play. Instead of putting a bunch of notes on a score hoping it creates something beautiful, it’s painstakingly considering each note and line, and their interactions with one another. It’s forcing yourself to put boundaries on your creativity. Putting your ideas into processes and boxes gives you something to push up against. It creates something for you to break and to change.

When stuff hits the fan and deadlines pile up, revisions seem endless, and people are tired, there’s a temptation to forsake rhythm for completion, and the work suffers.
It takes discipline to dig in and get back into the groove despite the mess that is going on around you. Rhythm and a person’s ability to keep it, is what seems to produce the best kind of work. To create work that means something to someone, maybe even move them.

At Cuz, rhythm is a bigger challenge for us, because we do all of our work on nights and weekends. But that’s also a part of our magic. We have even more limitations than the normal creative agency and in order to produce amazing work, we have to be more disciplined, go deeper faster and hold ourselves to even higher standards. You can be assured that because of our limitations and our convictions about our clients, we will be working harder and smarter than the rest.  For us at Cuz, there is only one option- to move people and we won’t stop until that happens.

On Rhythms by Photographer Rachel Iliadis

Rhythm: a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.

It is the arrangement of habits and daily decisions that will ultimately determine the direction of your life (no pressure). As we see in the human body and nature, it provides the framework and foundation for life to move peacefully amidst chaos. We all live and breathe in these rhythms for better or worse.

As a 28-year-old INFJ(P) mom of two entrepreneur married to my polar opposite, I’m constantly on the quest for the ever elusive concept of rhythm (read any semblance of balance or sanity). But as it turns out, trying to create a harmonious life out of two unique personalities while parenting and running a small business has proven to be quite the challenge. Surprise!

I am a visionary and idealist. I live wide-eyed and openhearted, oftentimes prioritizing spontaneity over schedules and the future over the present. The big decisions over what culture might classify as mundane (laundry, taxes, bed time routine, etc.) Routines don’t come naturally for me.

For instance, when my oldest daughter Penelope was 2 days old, my mom asked me about our schedule, to which I quickly replied, “We’re not those types of people. We prefer flexibility. The constraints of a schedule have no place here.“

What I didn’t understand at the time is that a lack of an intentional rhythm oftentimes translates to disorder, and if we’re honest, wasted time.

Fast forward three long, sleep deprived years and one giant epiphany later, things look much different. Instead of waking up and letting life take me wherever it wants, I set intentions for each day and determine the course (with limitations of course). The result? Peace. Productivity. Health. And, my mind finally has the space it needs to create and process with clarity.

Even though my personality naturally gravitates towards go-with-the-flow spontaneity (the jump in a van and drive wherever the road takes you kind), that lifestyle wasn’t grounding when the storms came. It left me feeling anxious, depressed and unprepared. In our family, we’ve learned that implementing a slower pace of life with more boundaries is necessary for our holistic health.

Turns out my mom was onto something.

It’s important to remind ourselves that the now is all we have.  All we’re given. Live the story that you want to read when you’re older. And in order to achieve this, I believe you must mindfully define your goals and then establish rhythm and routines to slowly achieve them.

These singular, repeated notes of your daily decisions will create the song that is your life: either a harmonious symphonic masterpiece or noise. How do you want it to sound?

To check out Rachel’s lovely work: racheliliadis.co

Rest and Work by Joshua Becker

Written by Joshua Becker, from his Blog Becoming Minimalist

It is no coincidence that most of the major world religions exhort human beings to set aside time each week for rest. And even those who would not consider themselves religious still speak to the value of rest. As humans, we all have physical limitations.

There is a danger in our world to self-exalt ourselves over our limitations – to claim that we can work without rest. There is great danger in losing the natural rhythm between rest and work. Great danger for our physical bodies, our emotional well-being, our relationships, and our spirituality. Simply put, we must guard the natural rhythms of life.

Minimalism provides more opportunity for valuable rest, refreshment, and enjoyment. Removing the relentless pursuit of physical possessions from our lives frees us from the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Removing unnecessary physical possessions from our lives frees us from the burden of caring for them. Removing clutter from our homes allows energy to flow more freely. And removing the value we place on physical items allows us to redirect our values and priorities.

So take a deep breath or better yet, take a nap. And return to the natural rhythms of work and rest.

RHYTHM: IT’S WHAT GETS PEOPLE OUT ON THE DANCE FLOOR. Rhythm: It's What Gets People Out On the Dance Floor

Today, we have the opportunity to hear from Joy Thigpen, Creative Director, on the idea of the flow cycle. She breaks down her method and challenges us to think creatively about how to recognize this rhythm in our work when creating.

We all know it’s not the lyrics or the melody that matter even a fraction as much as the rhythm.

I did weddings (photographing and designing them) for over a decade and have seen, time after time, an empty dance floor and a shy, scattered crowd transform into a throbbing mass, joyfully flailing in unison as soon as that first compelling beat drops. Some people will know every word, some will only know a few words, and some will even endure lyrics they despise—because they
there for the rhythm. Inevitably, some people will hold out on the edges of the room, committed to conversation and/or unwilling to fully abandon their bodies to the music so publicly, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a single soul that’s not influenced. At minimum, their foot bounces, head bobs, hips sway, or walk falls in step. We just can’t resist a good beat.

But that’s on a literal dance floor. On the dance floor of life I’ve come to observe a pretty different scene—there is an amazing four-count beat going on that most of us try really hard to resist. It’s called the flow cycle.

Flow is the actual scientific term for when you’re in the zone; when you become hyperfocused on doing something and everything else melts away. You lose track of time, forget to eat, hit a new level of creativity, and are killing it at whatever it is you’re doing. Researchers have studied flow states in everyone from rappers and improv jazz musicians to waitresses and snowboarders and found that there are some neurological changes happening in a flow state that are highly addictive and may literally be the best feeling on earth.

This state of peak performance and feeling amazing is a place most of us have at least tasted and crave to be. And we can be frustrated if we’re not there. But what most of us don’t understand is that flow is just one beat of a four count rhythm. We have to go through three other phases before we can hit flow again.

In an attempt to understand and kind of learn to hack the pattern for the rest of us, Steven Kotler has been studying flow states in extreme athletes for years. He’s learned that there’s a cycle. Here’s a summary:

The Flow Cycle

1. Struggle. Struggle is the uncomfortable place where you are learning new information or skills, and/or working through the structure of what you’re going to do. Kotler says, “to get the most out of this stage you want to take this (the struggle/discomfort) almost to the point when you’re about to lose your mind and then pull back.” During this period all your stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, adrenaline are rising and your brain is in high frequency Beta waves.

2. Release. You have to take your mind off the problem. Your brain slows down into Alpha waves and you trade your slower, lower ram, conscious thought processes from the struggle phase in for faster, subconscious thought with endless ram. “During the relaxation response, you’ve got a global release of nitric oxide gas, which is a signaling molecule everywhere in your body. It drops all the stress hormones out of your bloodstream and instead forces the release of dopamine, serotonin, anandamide, norepinephrine, endorphins, all the good chemicals that you want for flow,” Kotler explains.

3. Flow. Now your brain shifts into Theta and sometimes even Gamma waves. You’re in the zone, make fantastic decisions effortlessly, and feel one with the universe. You can enter a flow state (perhaps to varying intensities) while doing anything active but you’re much more likely to when you are acting out of intrinsic motivation. Freedom from distractions and self-judgement are critical. You’re most likely to hit a flow state when your challenge level and skill level is high. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the guy that coined the term flow, also hypothesized that autotelic people—people with a high level of curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only (so…Plywood kind of people) may be able to achieve flow more often than the average person. People in flow can be up to 500% more productive than when they’re not in flow (which would mean you could work one day a week in flow and be as productive as most people working 5 days a week), especially if they allow for the next phase…

4. Recovery. Last but not least. By this point you’re dropping into Delta waves. Your brain is spent and needs a period of recovery to replenish, consolidate memories, and rewire itself, which is where learning sets in. This is a great time to look back more objectively at what you did while in flow and see what’s worth keeping and what was just a crazy idea (so, editing). You can feel pretty horrible in this phase, especially compared to how good you felt previously, so it takes some awareness and grit to let yourself be here. Sunlight, sleep, and good nutrition can help you move through this stage more gracefully. The important thing is to not stress out about being here or you will crank up your cortisol which will prematurely send you back into the struggle phase.

Learning about this cycle has helped tune me into and give myself more permission to move through this rhythm more freely. Hopefully, becoming aware of this natural rhythm will help turn up it’s volume in your own life and invite you to at least fall in step with it if not give yourself over to it with full abandon. It’s a great beat.

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When you think about this process, where do you get stuck?

Healthy Not Perfect by Jim Starnes

Today, Jimmy Starnes, Executive Coach, breaks down what Rhythms mean for him and gives us a guide to use for ourselves.

WHAT RHYTHMS MEAN TO ME:
Rhythms to me are regular, recurring, consistent activities. Add the word healthy” to the definition & I would say that they are critical in helping us move forward in the right direction. They equip us to achieve our most essential goals, & even accomplish our life purpose.

The older I get, the more chaotic life gets. The more information & opportunity is thrown my way, the more important healthy rhythms become to my ultimate success & sanity in life.

Rhythms are the foundation of my schedule. Everything else is scheduled around them. My personal rhythms uncover the most important priorities in my life. They reveal what is truly important to me. They point towards an ideal future that I am trying to create for myself & those around me. They create tremendous momentum & results. This is why it is so important for me to make sure that I choose the right ones, the best options. They must align with where I am trying to go & who I want to be in the future.

HOW DO I MAKE RHYTHMS A PRIORITY?

I make healthy rhythms a priority in my life by planning ahead & putting them on my calendar first.

The idea here is that the healthy rhythms will always be more important and valuable than the other activities that will begin to fill up your days & take over your schedule.

During the Paterson Center LifePlan process, I learned to break my rhythms down into different categories & specifically define them. Each individuals categories & lists will differ as we are all unique in our design. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning your rhythms, along with some of my personal examples:

Physical: What rhythms are important for me to take care of my body? How do I keep high energy levels? How do I rest & replenish?Example – Run 1 mile everyday before breakfast.

Intellectual: What stimulates my mind and feeds it? What challenges & inspires me? What helps me grow in the mastery of my profession?Example – Read 1 book per month that challenges & inspires me.

Emotional: What emotions are going on inside of me? Why those? How can I best process & understand them?Example – Journal my emotions every Tuesday afternoon & process with my wife.

Spiritual: What activities feed my soul? What gives me hope for the future? Example – Daily morning prayer/mediation for 15 minutes.

Relational: How can I connect with loved ones on a consistent basis?Example – Take my wife on a date night every other Thursday.

HEALTHY NOT PERFECT

There will be times that you miss a rhythm for one reason or another. Dont get discouraged: Its not about perfection, but developing a healthy consistency over time.

If your rhythms aren’t working, ask yourself these questions to reevaluate the process:

  1. Why are rhythms important to you?
  2. What have you learned about rhythms in the past?
  3. What’s working?
  4. Whats not?
  5. What is best for you? (Not necessarily what is easiest for you).
  6. What must you change in the future to make them successful?

All healthy rhythms start with a simple, new action. An action that can become a huge benefit to you if done on a regular, recurring, & consistent basis!

I believe we all have the opportunity to create a better future for ourselves & our world & I believe “healthy not perfect” rhythms are a critical part of the process.

To quote my friends at Plywood, “Better is possible & the future is good!”

Perceptions Interview with Dave Ranney

1. How does perception play a role in your creations? 
By day, I am a graphic designer that uses color, form and typography to influence the way the public perceives a brand. The work I am creating as And Also sprouted from a 100-day project that had the goal of rediscovering my own visual POV outside of clients needs, wants and expectations.

2. How did you begin seeing the world this way?
I grew up going to the National Gallery and Hirschhorn museum in Washington DC where I stared endlessly at the works of Sol Lewitt, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein. That modern minimalism bore its way deep into my psyche.

3. It seems like in every piece of art you create there are multiple ways of seeing reality. What deeper meaning are you communicating through this in life or culture?
I am easily distracted and my brain often feels like a computer with 100 different tabs open simultaneously. My work is a meditative process that follows a strict grid to create abstract forms with both 2D and 3D compartments for my thoughts. Think of it like a graphic version of The Container Store for my busy mind.

4. We noticed you are starting an Atlanta series. What do you hope for these new depictions? 
The Atlanta buildings are part of a collaboration with a young, local fashion brand and an homage to the city I love. I get to explore my two new favorite things; generating figurative forms from physical inspiration and repeatable pattern design.