King Cake

Unleash The Power Within

October 27, 2014

In the last three days I have walked on coals; seen a woman have an orgasm in public (fully clothed); had dance parties at 8:30 am and 8:30 pm on the same day (and 8 times in between); learned what air guitar is; put fingers in my two nostrils simultaneously, while looking at someone doing the same thing; revealed my most intimate fear to a complete stranger; and hugged about 15 random people daily. Why? Because a 6’7" charismatic white man told me to. Yes, I went to Unleash the Power Within to listen to Tony Robbins.

It is the end of day three, there is one more day to go. Have I loved every minute of it? No. The “ra-ra-ra” piece of it is very challenging for me (I am an introvert after all, and my initial impression could not have been better expressed than in the book Quiet, by Susan Cain). The sales pitch about products and additional classes rubs me the wrong way (although a wise woman said “everyone has to sell something”). The grueling hours (8:30 am to midnight) exhaust me. The hypnosis-like exercises leave me indifferent and unhypnotized no matter how hard I try.

Have the past three days taken me out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Perhaps more than most other experiences I have had. What have I learned? I am not sure - my brain is full, stimulated, and perhaps overwhelmed. I need to process all of this information. But even tonight, in my exhausted state, I know I have learned a few things…

  • The quality of your emotions determine the quality of your life

Imagine the richest person, who is miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled. Do they wake up happy for the millions they have? No, they wake up miserable and unhappy. On the contrary, someone who is barely getting by but happy and grateful and content. Do they wake up unhappy because of the millions they do not have in their bank account? No, they wake up grateful. Who has a better quality of life?

  • A change in emotion comes from a change in motion.

Said differently, changing your mental state is predicated on changing your physiology. This is why we are constantly getting up, jumping or dancing around, clapping and cheering.

  • Who you spend time with is who you become.

Said a different way, our lives are a direct reflection of the expectations of our peer group. Surround yourself with people who are better than you and you will better yourself. Find people who will challenge you. Find peers who do whatever you strive to improve better than you do. Why? Because proximity is power.

  • All beliefs carry consequences.

We learn this with a hard, long, mental and emotional exercise involving figuring out our three most limiting beliefs and what the consequences of not changing these beliefs would be in 10, 20, 30 years. This is one of the “hypnosis-like” exercises that I do not respond to, but that does not prevent me from understanding that those three deep, limiting, negative beliefs that have become assumptions are preventing me from reaching my full potential. And now I know they are bullshit, and that my truth is actually the antithesis of those three beliefs.

I am sure I learned a lot more. My brain just can’t figure it out right now.

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On Intention and Productivity

September 29, 2014

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a Cadre lunch, during which Derek Coburn discussed intention and productivity. And if you know me, you know productivity is something that fascinates me. While I will not be able to do justice to everything he talked about, here are some highlights and some of the resources he recommended.

On Being Busy

-       Being busy and bring productive are not the same thing.

-       Try not saying “I am busy” for a week (I commit to doing this this week).

-       “Being busy is often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” Tim Ferriss

-       Try saying “I am not doing anything today” and sticking to it once in a while (not surprisingly, this is one recommendation I have challenges    with…).

-       “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Warren Buffet

On Reclaiming Time

-       Time is our most scarce and sacred resource, and as such Derek recommends seriously pondering how to can reclaim time.

-       Part of reclaiming time involves outsourcing. “Outsource everything possible, in particular what you are neither good nor passionate about,” says Derek.

-       One of the tools he uses is RescueTime. This program helps track your most productive times and how much time you are spending on certain programs (and also lets you block certain websites that may be distracting). I just signed up for this and am excited to see what I can learn!

-       Derek raves about virtual assistants and automation tools. While I have never used this type of service, I am intrigued. Derek recommends Elance and Task Rabbit as two great resources.

-       Use scheduling tools such as Vcita. Indeed, as Derek reminded us, it takes an average of 7 emails to schedule a single meeting.

On Managing Meetings Overload

-       Derek urged us to never take a meeting unless there is a clear agenda.

-       He also mentioned no longer taking “coffee or lunch meetings” but instead scheduling a phone conversation – especially when this is a first meeting. A coffee or lunch meeting can always come as a second step.

On Managing Email Overload

-       I am an emailer. I use my inbox (both of them actually!) as a to-do list. I flag emails, file emails, sometimes I drown in emails. Once per week I usually take my inbox and start at the bottom and go through every email to make sure I have not forgotten something (this takes about 2-3 hours). Yet sometimes things fall through the cracks…

-       Derek recommends Sanebox to help minimize and summarize emails. I have not yet brought myself to try this…

On Managing Phone Calls and Voicemails

-       I hate voicemails. I don’t know why… but I do. I always delay listening to them, which is neither productive nor polite. I wish my phone didn’t allow voicemails, but I can’t quite take that step.

-       I also hate the phone, which I find intrusive. It still surprises me when people call to have a long conversation without having scheduled a phone meeting – although I do the same… And when a call comes in, I have a very hard time not answering. Even from an “unknown number.” Hence I laugh when Derek suggests that answering a phonecall from an “unknown caller” is telling the universe that anyone and anything can interrupt you anytime.

-       Per Derek’s recommendation, I signed up for PhoneTag after this lunch and I love getting voicemails via texts!

On Decision-Making Overload

-       I read once that President Obama wears the same shirt every day (not the same one, but identical-looking ones) in order to remove one decision from all of the decisions he has to make daily. Also, remember how Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit to meetings (jeans, sneakers, a black turtleneck)? Derek mentions this and reminds us that “Cognitive resources are scarce, limited, quickly and easily depleted.”

-       Removing the need to make certain decisions helps to alleviate decision-making fatigue. Try to take decisions off the table every day, remove decisions that are not essential so you can make better decisions on the more important things.

On Starting Your Week One Day Early

-       Derek starts his week on Saturday because family is most important to him. By starting his week on Saturday he puts time in with family and kids early on in the week and does not feel guilty the rest of the week (week goes Saturday to Friday instead of Monday to Sunday).

-       Start your day the night before; take a look at the priorities for the next day the previous evening and do one or two of the things that are absolute musts that previous evening.

A Few Other Tips

-       It takes you 20 minutes to refocus on the task at hand when you get un-focused because of an interruption.

-       Morning rituals are key in terms of setting your day up for success. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod is a great book that investigates just that.

-       Create your “Superhero music soundtrack,” songs that inspire you and get you going and motivate you to do your best work.

-       Derek listens to podcasts and books on tape, and talked about adjusting the speed of what he listens to – kind of like the auditory equivalent of speed-reading.

-       When Derek leaves for vacation, he sets his out of office automatic email response showing the departure day one day early, and the return day one day after he is actually back in the office, in order to manage the expectations of people emailing him in terms of his response time.

Most importantly perhaps, Derek ends by urging us to put intention in everything we do. To him, success is “being able to say yes to what he wants to do, and no to what he does not want to do.” In the end, all of these productivity tips and tools are ways to get us there …

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Chateau Coutet

September 16, 2014

After a wedding weekend in Bordeaux where my youngest sister Roxane was married on Saturday, I come home to Geneva to my sister’s apartment and what is on TV but a documentary about Saint-Émilion, this amazing piece of land in the Southwest of France.

The documentary opens with an interview of the owner of Angelus, one of the most amazing wineries in the area. My sister’s partner has promised my husband and I that we would get to open a bottle at Christmas time … And I just learned that there was significant product placement of this wine in Casino Royale … quite the coup!

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

Angelus is also near and dear to my heart because that is where we met on Friday for a visit to Roxane’s favorite vineyard. Not Angelus, but a small, family-owned (still) chateau called Chateau Coutet. There is no sign (that is part of the fun), except to meet across from Chateau Angelus and take the small dirt road immediately to the left. Very mysterious.

Mysterious, on purpose. The first thing that Adrien tells us is that his chateau is “non-classe” on purpose – it used to be, but it is easier to stay under the radar by note being “classe.” This enables his family to keep the value of the land under control – which in turn enables them to keep the vineyard in the family. Indeed, his pride shows through that Coutet is family owned, and has been for 400 years, aka 14 centuries. Unlike most of the other properties in the area, who have sold to large corporate investors, mostly foreign ones (he cites Asians). Why? Partly because the inheritance taxes when the father passes on to the next generation are so prohibitive (even more so when the land is officially “classe” and thus higher in value). And partly because the prices offered are so high it would be almost irresponsible to refuse to sell.

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

In any case, in the three hours we spend at Chateau Coutet, I learn a few things about Saint-Émilion / Bordeaux wines, and the Coutet label more specifically.

First, the wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the three main ones being Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%).

Second, most vines of Saint-Émilion (probably most wines actually) are highly treated with pesticides and insecticides. However, at Chateau Coutet, no pesticides or insecticides have been used since the beginning. They are fully organic, and in turn fully dependent on the weather. And hence, their productions are quite small and niche. They don’t sell their wine ahead of having it actually made.

Third, Americans are the largest consumers of the wines of the Saint-Emilion region. Go figure …

Fourth, most vineyards in Saint-Émilion specialize in producing a single type of wine. Not here my Napa experiences of trying three red and three whites. We try red – from various years. The same blend, different weather conditions.

Finally, no rosé is made in Bordeaux (it’s kind of like Champagne… and appellation restriction). Instead, they make Claret (or Clairet). It is redder than a rosébut less than a red. It has 14% alcohol and (thus?) is more tannic. It will be perfect next summer, served chilled in the heat of summer.

I have to admit, we leave having ordered three cases of wine… the 2005 red which is ready to drink now, and the 2009 red which will be ready to drink in 4 years. And, of course, a case of Claret!

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