Finally rained

It has been a very dry summer in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live.

This morning I was awakened by loud claps of thunder and the sound of rain pattering on the windows and roof. I realised that it has been a long time since I heard this sound. It even felt a little strange to hear it.

This got me thinking about how quickly we adapt to our circumstances. Normally, in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live, summer rain is a part of life. This summer, however, we’ve had a drought. So rain stopped being part of what I expected to see.

I was happy to be surprised by refreshing rain this morning. I could almost feel the plants’ relief.

Back from research leave

This Canada Day marked my return from a year’s research leave. It has been a good year- I moved into a new home, got involved in the federal election, made a bunch of great new friends, and wrote most of a new book on social media in Canada. I also became pescetarian and mindfully started on the path to fitness.

I am looking forward to coming back to McMaster as director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program for a three-year term, until 2019. I love teaching and being part of the university community. I love the rhythm and cadence of university life and the excitement that students feel at the prospect of learning and growing. I love research and discovery – both from the personal perspective of gaining a new understanding of the world, but also because  research and the enlightenment it brings help to transform our communities for the better.

The MCM is a wonderful community of practitioners who learn from one another. I count our faculty among the learners as well, because when twenty very bright, leading communicators from across Canada get together in a room to discuss and debate the theories and practices of management, strategy, marketing, and communications, even the top experts become facilitators. What a joy for all involved.

If you have been thinking about an MBA, you should consider the MCM. We offer the course courses of the MBA in a format that works with your schedule and busy life. It really is an “MBA for creative people.”

The fact that the MCM is offered to you by McMaster University in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, opens a whole world of experience for you in the United States!

If you’re interested in the MCM, do send me a note and we can chat about the program and your application to join the 2016-17 cohort, which starts in October.

We have extended our application deadline to August 15, 2016.

 

The quantified self makes us more human

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the quantified self. Since Ash Wednesday 2016, I started a fast that meant that I went pescetarian.  While I thought that I would miss beef, chicken, pork and duck, the reality has been that I do not.  It helps that my favourite foods have always been fish and seafood.

Being a researcher by nature and by profession, I started reading about the benefits of not eating meat and found them to be legion: farming meat animals is a terribly energy-intensive process that generates a lot of waste water and pollution.

This led to a greater reflection on my life and its impact on others and on the environment. I decided to track what I ate to be able to quantify my diminished impact on the environment and so doing realised that I had been over-consuming calories on a regular basis. Logging the food and drink that I consumed made me aware of the reality of what I put into my body. That was illuminating and brought me some peace, strangely.

I started to add fitness to this regimen and tracked its impact on my net calories per day. I enjoyed the feeling of self-knowledge and personal calibration that I could achieve by tweaking what I ate and the calories I burned through different types of exercise. A side benefit was that I started feeling a lot calmer on the days I ran or swam or rowed and more alert and clear on the days I practised intermittent fasting or was under my calorie goal for the day. It was a good feeling.

It was at this point that I realised what I was doing was an exercise in mindfulness. I was finding that the data and quantification – in my case it was a simple excel spreadsheet and myfitnesspal – gave me a feeling of knowing myself  and being present in my life. That was a very good feeling.

I also started to realise that gently introducing and then tracking new habits wasn’t so hard. I realised that it’s mostly a factor of letting a habit that makes me feel better (like exercise) sink in so that it feels natural and I miss it if I haven’t done it that day.

I realised that my main motivation for keeping a good habit was if it made my life easier, happier or better (after the initial period of adjustment, of course). For me, that meant that the habit involved finding peace. Since then I have added other habits that are generally good for the environment and for my personal peace: I stopped swearing, committed to always obeying the speed limit when driving and to very brief daily morning and evening meditation.

I found that after an initial period of frustration, each of these habits brought me greater calm and a greater feeling of being present in my life and in my surroundings.

My greatest surprise on this journey has been that: tracking these habits became an exercise in mindful living instead of a burden.

I will post on this from time to time during the coming year.

It’s been a good journey thus far.

 

What made Facebook successful?

I remember, in 2006, when I first started to notice Facebook. At that point, it was a basic service, allowing users to connect to one another and share updates and information. It had competitors – myspace and Orkut, amongst many others. Why did Facebook grow to be so dominant?

Facebook’s simple visual identity and early links to the Ivy League gave it an aspirational brand component, which meant that young adults adopted it in droves, which later pulled their parents into the network and then their grandparents.

As well, FB has been quick to adapt to emerging trends in social networking such as the incorporation of hashtags, trending topics and embedded video. As its members’ networks grew, FB’s algorithms that keep you focused on the friends you are most likely to interact with kept users’ feeds relevant.

The perceived rapid responses to demands from users to customize their privacy settings kept the network in its users’ good books. While the actual efficacy of privacy protection is questionable, FB was able to create the perception that it acted quickly.

As well, FB has kept its advertising scheme relevant, with relatively unobtrusive advertising that permitted easy and accurate geotargeting as well as targeting according to SES and other demographic features.

Once FB became a household name and an essential part of many people’s family, personal and work/school lives, it achieved a critical mass which has made it difficult to not be part of for most.

So, a combination of first-to-market, a clean look, prestige associations and quick adaptation has kept FB at the top of the heap.

Any thoughts?

Meditating so that writing becomes fun and not work

Amazingly, I have stuck to two of my New Year’s resolutions: meditating and writing.

Each day, I have been spending two hours (at least) focused exclusively on editing JPC or working on my book project.

I have found that the time I spend writing and editing has become an inspirational and meditative time that I look forward and crave, because instead of stressing about not having written, instead, I think of writing as a relief from the stress of everyday life. This has made all the difference, taking writing from being work and transforming it into something exciting and relaxing to look forward to.

I got here by meditating in the morning, a little at lunch and in the evening. Each time for about 5-10 minutes. During that time, I try my best to calm my mind and then focus my thoughts (or blank them).

This has led to each meditation session being a source of inspiration for my writing or editing.

I will check in again soon with an update if this still continues to work.

On the simple life: find your peaceful thing.

Every new year, I hear many of the people I know express that they want to “return to a simpler life” or eliminate clutter. I often have this noble ambition myself. This year, I asked myself what this really means. I came up with a couple of ideas.

Eliminating clutter doesn’t mean stripping back all things you do. Rather, I think it means looking at why you do the things you do and asking yourself if there is a reason for each. When I went through this exercise, I found that of the things that caused me stress were inherently stressful. No, rather, it was that I simply didn’t really want to do them.

So how do you determine if you really want to do something? It’s a tougher question than it seems. First, you have to ask yourself what it is that organizes your life: is it religion? is your family relationships? is it friendships? is it work? Then, you ask yourself whether that organizing factor brings you peace or whether it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety when you think of it.

If it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety then you have your answer: the thing around which you have organized your life is wrong for you. If it brings you peace, then it is probably that many of the things you do are in sync with the thing that your life is organized around. That means that you are doing things that, in the end, are meaningless to your life.

So, find the thing that your life centers on or is organized by. Ask yourself if it brings you peace. If not, change it. If it brings you peace, then evaluate the other things you fill your life with: do they jive with your organizing center? If not, jettison them.

I am in the process of doing this. It feels good.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2016

As I have discussed on Facebook and this blog, 2014 and 2015 have been difficult years for me. These challenges have forced me to rethink my priorities and set myself on a new path, fuelled by greater focus and enthusiasm.

As I write this post, I sit by a roaring fire and watch the snow float by the window, dusting the spruce and settling in a quiet canopy over the ground at my parents’ home in King City.

I write these five resolutions in a moment of peace.

  1. Focus on writing and editing. I feel that I have a lot to add to various conversations in academic, professional and social circles. I will try to write every day.
  2. Be more social. I have been coming of out the shell I crawled into the last few years, and it feels good. I will strive to be more engaged my relationships with family and friends.
  3. Pray, meditate and contemplate. During the difficult last month, I have turned to meditation and prayer, and it has felt right. I will try to meditate and pray (for at least 5 minutes) three times a day.
  4. Get fit. I was always an athlete and – due to neglect – I have put on an unhealthy amount of weight. I will focus on getting healthy and rebuilding the discipline I once had around nutrition and exercise.
  5. Practice my hobbies. I love playing the piano, swimming, fencing and playing games with friends like chess or snooker. I have put these things aside since 2011. I will endeavour to change that this year.

So there you have it. My plan for 2016.