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Tales from Waikiki: Imprinting and the Power to Change

Earlier this month, my extended family and I spent a week vacationing in Hawaii. Out of that experience exploring the wonders of Oahu came some juicy ideas well worth sharing over the next few weeks. So, here we go…

We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village at Waikiki based on a spot-on recommendation that it was a great hotel for families. Besides the beachfront access and several pools for my daughters to swim in daily, (not to mention all the shopping for my mother and sister), the Hilton had a waddle of tropical penguins. The birds were conveniently located right outside our particular hotel tower so we stopped to visit them pretty much every time we passed. These Hilton penguins are called African Penguins so they’re adapted for tropical environments. Over the week we learned a lot about them as a species (endangered) and some of their quirks (they sound like braying donkeys which is why they’re sometimes called Jackass Penguins).

We also learned about something called imprinting. Turns out penguins – as well as many other birds – learn how to be birds shortly after birth by observing the characteristics of the other birds around them. It’s a rapid process…and it’s fairly permanent, meaning what is learned through this process cannot easily be undone. So if a young hatchling observes not a bird but a human, they’re going to be imprinted with human characteristics. In other words, you’re going to have a rather confused bird who is going to try and act like a human. One penguin at the Hilton named Icarus had this sort of human imprinting, which is immediately noticeable because she (yes, she…these penguins are also notoriously difficult to sex) is fairly tame by penguin standards. Icarus will also never mate because she’s not attracted to other penguins; case in point: she mercilessly attacked the last male who tried to get it on with her because he was too penguiny.

Where am I going with all this? Let me ask a question: how many times do we behave like we’ve been imprinted by our past? Except we’re not holding on to the actions of others we’ve observed, but our own actions. We say – either openly or quietly to ourselves – that we’re a failure or stupid or not talented enough for what looks like a great job opportunity. Every time we do this, we’ve essentially confirmed our own imprinting by not letting go of that past behavior. The good news is that we’re not easily imprinted birds, but humans capable of flexible thought. We can retrain ourselves to think differently about who we are and what we’re capable of achieving in our lives. We can reimprint ourselves whenever we choose.

Notice what’s holding you back. The key is self-awareness. Get mindful of thoughts that contain images involving past failures and weaknesses. Listen for words like can’t and never. If it feels like a barrier, then it probably is. Say you’re holding on to an image of failing at starting a business or bombing an assignment. Now imagine taking the picture out of your head and tossing it into the fire. You’re not forgetting the lessons learned…instead, you’re torching their power to hold you in your present position. You’re claiming your right to be free of all the past crap that’s simply not serving you right now.

Re-envision what you want. Time to re-imprint our thinking and behavior with something different. You’re free to be as creative as you want now. Imagine vividly yourself as successful. What would it look like? And perhaps more importantly, what would it feel like? Imprinting isn’t a logical, rational process; it’s a visceral, emotional one. The stronger you can cement the images in your body, the better you’ll be able to hold on to these newly imprinted images.

Maintain awareness. Even though we can change how we think and feel, it’s still not a walk in the park. Change takes dedication and commitment. Remain vigilant when it comes to how old imprinted behavior reenters your thought process. Remember: you’re not a penguin…you can do this.

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My Think Different Challenge…Or Confessions Of A Perfectionist

I’ve been tagged for the Think Differently Challenge meme by Jamie Notter and it’s one that I’ve been giving some of my best mental energy. It’s a good challenge. Like Jamie, I fully believe that “if you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” So if you’re intent on learning and evolving, you have to be prepared to see things in new ways.

First, I have to be honest…it took me a while to uncover a topic worthy enough for this particular challenge. A no-brainer might have been patience (such as having patience with my fellow motorists no matter how crazy their driving or having patience with people doing idiotic things like taking up two parking spaces…hmmm…it appears I have some vehicular issues to resolve, huh?). But my issues around patience lack flair and imagination. No…if I’m going for a challenge, let’s make it something interesting, something provocative, something that’s going to push me in a new direction.

So what is my Think Different Challenge to myself? I’m challenging myself to be less of a perfectionist. Would you like to know how much of a perfectionist I am? I started this particular post three weeks ago and haven’t been able to publish it because I wanted it to be absolutely perfect. Quite honestly, this is one of my major hang-ups when it comes to blogging and creating content for the Alchemy of Soulful Work. I have around two dozen posts in various states of completeness, but they’re still stuck in the draft folder awaiting their own state of perfection.

And it’s not just blogging…other areas of my life tend to suffer from an ingrained desire for achieving perfection. Even as a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I continue to set an incredibly high bar for myself in my work, as well as a father and husband. Regardless of how far I’ve come, I still have plenty of work to do…so here’s my plan:

Questions, questions, questions…for me, thinking differently starts with asking questions. Here are a few that I can stash in my back pocket:

  • Is the extra attention and detail I’m putting into this ultimately worth it?
  • What am I giving up in order to keep doing this?
  • Am I willing to forgive myself if I screw up?
  • Am I willing to let go of the need to always be the “star student”?
  • What am I trying to avoid by pursuing perfection?

So here’s my post which is not – nor will it ever be – perfect. For perfectionists, this is rather like stripping down to our underwear and running down the street. But then again, nothing I do is ever perfect so donning only my skivvies on a daily basis shouldn’t be anything new, right?

Per the rules of the game, I now get to see if five others are willing to play along. You probably know the rules – they’re similar to most other memes. In this case, write a new blog post in which you “think different.” State that the post is a part of the Think Different Challenge and include a link and/ or trackback to this post so that readers know the rules of the challenge (see Jamie’s post for more info).

Annette Clancy at Interactions – Creative Strategies for Business

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity

Debbie Call at Spirit in Gear

Patti Digh at 37 Days

Tammy Lenski at Strategic Conversations

And if I didn’t tag you here and want to play along – maybe as a part of an upcoming New Year reflection – jump on in.

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