The Gift of the Present Moment: A Book Excerpt

Dr. John Izzo’s new book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, defines insidious mental patterns that steal happiness. The five thieves are control, conceit, consumption, coveting, and comfort. I appreciate Dr. Izzo sharing this excerpt from his book, concentrating on the thief of control.

Focused Mindset

The Monkey with the Clenched Fist

The thief of control makes us like the monkeys of Southeast Asia who were captured at one time by locals through a simple yet cruel trick. Sweets were placed all around a tree, and a coconut was hollowed out, leaving a hole just large enough for a monkey to slip his hand through. Inside was placed a sweet. The other side of the coconut had a bolt that was chained to a tree. When the monkeys came and ate the sweets spread around the tree, one monkey would inevitably pick up the coconut, reach inside, and grab the treat. But the hole was not big enough to get the clenched fist out.

The monkey would often try desperately to carry off the coconut, but, try as he might, the coconut could never be taken nor the sweet removed from its shell. The only thing  the monkey had to do to be free was unclench his fist and let go of the sweet. Yet most monkeys fought until utterly exhausted. The islanders would simply capture the monkey in that exhausted state. The monkey’s undoing was his own attachment and inability to let go.

Attention Without Attachment

Happiness is knowing what we can control and accepting what we cannot control. At the most basic level, happiness comes from understanding that we can control our actions and our responses to things external to us, but we cannot control the results of our actions. Focusing on our actions brings happiness; focusing on the result of our actions brings unhappiness.

The Buddha and Jesus often appear to the casual reader to be very different in their approaches to enlightenment or salvation (the two terms used in each tradition). In fact, the more one examines the teachings of each, the more one sees the way that both teachers emphasize the need to surrender to that which is at any moment. This is why the Buddhist Thích Nhâ’t Hanh has written extensively about the similarities of each teacher.

When Jesus encouraged his followers to look to the flowers of the field as role models because they did not seek, he was making a very important spiritual point. When he said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”¹ he was making the same point. It is not the lack of control that brings suffering but the desire for control, which keeps us from lasting happiness and peace.

One of the big moments in my own life was when I first understood the distinction between attention and attachment. Attention is the energy and choices I make, whereas attachment is an inner desire to control what is inherently uncontrollable. Another way to think about this is to see it as intention without tension. Having goals in life, or even desires of what we want to happen in any particular situation, is not a problem in terms of our happiness. It is when we become attached to controlling an outcome that the thief starts to rob us. The theft of our happiness rarely comes from our intentions but from the tension we feel when attached to the outcomes of things.

How do we know the difference between attention and attachment? Attention is about taking action in the present moment toward hoped-for ends, whereas attachment is becoming wed to a particular outcome’s being the source of our happiness.

I play a great deal of tennis, and this point can be illustrated easily there. Happiness on the tennis court is found in the experience of the body playing the game, the joy of experiencing the way the body, the racquet, and the ball all become one. In my most sublime moments playing tennis, my focus is simply on being fully present in the game, attentive to how I am hitting the ball and moving my feet. The moment I become focused primarily on whether I am going to win a point is the very moment when tennis becomes a source of unhappiness. Of course, I have the intention of winning a point and even the match, but this is an outcome I cannot control. What I can control is my intention to be as fully in the game as possible at every moment.

Life is much like that tennis game. We are happiest when we are simply fully present in each moment, expressing our intention through our focus and unattached to the outcome as the source of happiness.

Often we discover that the outcome—the goal we have become attached to—turns out to be less rewarding than the striving (the intention). My partner, Janice, tried out for the national baseball team in Canada for 18 years! For almost two decades, she worked hard, played hard, and practiced hard, and every year she tried to win a spot on the roster. Every year she failed to make it until finally, after all those years, she was given a spot. You would think, of course, that the outcome would have been the highlight of all that struggle. The opposite turned out to be the case. Getting on the team was anticlimactic compared with the present-moment focus, year after year, of trying to be the best player she could possibly be, both on the field and in the inner mental game. Besides, she could not control the outcome, so the more she focused on the process, the happier she was.

In order to center yourself with present-moment focus and deter the thief of control, I recommend this mantra, which has worked beautifully for me:

Focused Mindset

Dr. John Izzo is a corporate advisor, a frequent speaker and the bestselling author of seven books including the international bestsellers Awakening Corporate SoulValues ShiftThe Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, and Stepping Up. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness.

Over the last twenty years he has spoken to over one million people, taught at two major universities, advised over 500 organizations and is frequently featured in the media by the likes of Fast Company, PBS, CBC, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and INC Magazine.

Connect with him via his website, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

¹Luke 12:25 (New International Version).


How to Identify Your Disruptive Skills: A Whitney Johnson Guest Post

When I had the opportunity to attend the Social Good Summit in New York City recently, I was not surprised to hear the trendy word “disrupt” uttered in more than one session.

Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Dell, used the word “disrupt” in both of her panels, Enabling Entrepreneurship Everywhere and Tech Disruptions for a Sustainable Future.

It’s one thing to disrupt business models worldwide in order to make it possible for the economically disadvantaged to do business and for technology to improve quality of life across the board, but it’s another thing to turn the idea of disruption around and direct it inward.

In Disrupt Yourself, which is being released on Tuesday, October 6, Whitney Johnson explores disruption for individuals. She is someone I have respected and followed for years; it is my privilege to host a guest post by her here at Perspicacity.


How to Identify Your Disruptive Skills

As a professional, you should constantly be engaged in the process of re-evaluating your portfolio of skills and leading with those that are unique — your disruptive skills. These may be capacities that are so innate you may not even consciously recognize them, or skills you have honed over years of practice. These are the skills that can help you carve out a disruptive niche — consequently upping your value in the marketplace. But how do you identify these skills? Or as one reader queried on Hacker News, “How do you identify the skills that disrupt others’ previously-established judgment of your worth to them?” This is a subject I’ve researched and thought deeply about; readers of my last post also left some great advice. Here are three questions to get started.

What do you do reflexively well? You can arrive at an answer by asking questions such as: “What do I think about when I don’t have to think about anything?” Or, “what one or two things do I spend time doing that I would continue to do even if I weren’t compensated?” Alternatively, as Alana Cates recommended in a comment on the prior post, ask yourself: “When are you exasperated? The frustration of genius is in believing that if it is easy for you, it must be easy for everyone else.”

Marcus Buckingham, the author of Now — Discover Your Strengths, frames it well: “Our strengths…clamor for attention in the most basic way: Using them makes you feel strong. Take note of the times when you feel invigorated, inquisitive, successful…These moments are clues to what your strengths are.”

What do others identify as being your best skills? Neil Reay, who also weighed in on the previous post, wrote that when he asked for recommendations on his LinkedIn profile, “several things that others said about my strengths were not the things I was using as “Core Skills” in my own profile, but were valuable to those around me.” Sometimes what we learn about our core skills isn’t what we want to hear, like the fourteen year-old who is told he’s built to be a long distance runner rather than a football player, as he aspires to be. Sometimes, however, the assessments of our colleagues and friends will actually surprise and delight us. A well-respected author who is a family friend told me he couldn’t wait to see what I was going to accomplish over the next decade. To him, it was probably just an offhand remark, but for me it was a real confidence booster that he saw me as someone with potential, a do-er.

We can gain perspective on our strengths more systematically via 360-degree feedback analysis, which we often receive in the workplace. Just such an analysis at a previous job — which indicated that my skill of networking outside the firm was exceptional, but I was perceived as not being as good at networking within the firm — helped me to identify a pattern in my life I later recognized in Professor Boris Groysberg’s article, “How Star Women Build Portable Skills.” (Groysberg found that women are generally more successful than men in moving from one job to another because we have, out of necessity, built external networks.)

If you’d like to try a little self-analysis, I recommend an HBR article titled “How to Play to Your Strengths” which provides step-by-step instruction to determine those strengths — and involves asking trusted colleagues and friends. One of the leads is asking trusted colleagues to fill in the blank, “One of the greatest ways you add value is ______.”

Do you have a confluence of skills? As you begin to inventory and mine for your unique abilities, you may discover that your disruptive skill may not be one skill, but an unusual intersection of ordinary proficiencies. As Ed Weissman opined on Hacker News: “It’s tough to claim to be one of the world’s best php programmers, unix gurus, or apparel e-commerce experts. But there may not be many excellent php programmers who are also unix gurus and apparel e-commerce domain experts. For the right customer, that combination is your disruptive skill.”

One final tip from my personal experience: keep an eye out for those compliments you habitually dismiss. It’s possible that you’re discounting a strength that others value. For example, when people compliment me on my interpersonal skills, I tend to deflect the compliment — perhaps because previous employers have discounted my soft skills vis-à-vis hard skills. Or consider a former college athlete who finds himself brushing aside the achievement of playing on a national championship team out of concern that others may view his brawn as eclipsing his brain. The tendency to deflect is often understandable, perhaps even justifiable, but over the course of our career, it will leave us trading at a discount to what we are worth. 19th-century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Identifying and deploying your best skills can be a game-changer for your career. Not necessarily because employers will suddenly decide to pay you more, but because accurately valuing ourselves is foundational to disrupting others’ perception of our worth. When you recognize your greatest assets — your disruptive skills — you are on your way to taking stock in you.

This post was originally published at The Harvard Business Review on 10/04/2010.

If you are intrigued by Whitney’s approach to disruption (and I’ll bet you are!), please join her for a webinar on Wednesday, October 7, at noon ET to learn more. Click here to register! 


Whitney Johnson is the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, and Dare, Dream, Do. Additionally, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review.  Learn more about her at or connect with her on Twitter.


Halloween Memories: A Short Story

Halloween Memories

Note from Paula — when I was going through items written by my mother-in-law, Barb, after her death, this short story recounting her Halloween memories is one of the pieces I found among the records she had kept of pieces she had submitted to various publications. The Polaroid picture above was clipped to the hard copy in her files. It seemed like the perfect Halloween “gift” and as I typed it, I could hear her voice in every word. It was the loveliest kind of Halloween “ghost.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did …

A Jack O’Lantern Filled With Memories

It’s October again, and the air is filled with autumn’s crisp scent. To me this means it’s time to pull the orange ceramic jack o’lantern from its resting place on the top shelf of the hall closet. The pumpkin has been there for twenty years, never escaping except for this one month of the year when it leaves the dark and becomes the dining room table’s Halloween centerpiece.

Today, watched by its triangle eyes and smiled at by its toothy grin, I set it on a wicker mat in the center of the table. Placing a candle in its hollow center, I carefully struck a match and brought the season’s hallmark to life. Then as the flame’s warmth caressed my hand, I felt a rush of twenty year old memories.

Chuck was there, a white faced ghost draped in a mended sheet. Beside him stood Patrick grinning a six year old’s toothless grin and wearing a ballerina’s pink tights and net tutu. Ann, dressed in a fleecy blanket sleeper, wore bunny ears held straight by wire coat hangers.

Another son came into view. Wayne? Memory flickered like the candle flame, then resumed its steady flow. Yes, it was him. Then I laughed, for his small self had become a balloon-shaped orange-skinned pumpkin and his head a green stem.

The memories, my real-life now grown children, danced around the candle lit pumpkin and shouted, “trick-or-treat.”

“Do you think my costume will win a prize, mama?” The ballerina shouted, pirouetting on feet that stretched the satin slippers to the breaking point.

“No, I’m going to win,” announced another child with Jim’s voice. He was wrapped completely in multiple layers of six inch gauze. Small slits for eyes, nose and mouth permitted the mummy child to see, breathe and eat.

“Maybe you’ll both win,” I heard myself say, wanting to keep peace between the ballerina and the mummy.

Then as suddenly as they had come they were gone leaving me staring into the pumpkin’s grinning face.

“Do you remember?” I asked, but before the jack o’lantern could answer, my children were back.

“I won the prize, mama,” two voices chorused.

“I didn’t,” other voices chimed.

I looked into the earnest faces and tried to guess the winners, but their smiles hid the secret.

“I won for being the prettiest.” The ballerina bowed low before me.

“I won for being the scariest.” The mummy stood at stiff attention.

“And what about you?” I looked from the pumpkin, to the ghost and the bunny rabbit.

“I bobbed for apples and got one,” said the ghost holding up a piece of half eaten fruit.

“I got the biggest sack of candy,” the pumpkin shoved a crayon decorated grocery bag under my nose.

“And I was so tired, daddy had to carry me home,” sighed the little bunny.

The ceramic jack o’lantern’s light sputtered. Again my memories faded from view. Leaning closer, I passed my hand over the grinning face to check the light. When these scenes were first played, I could both see and hear. Today though, I can only hear their voices, as I am blind. Yet for me nothing has been lost, for God has secreted their happy faces inside my heart, and inside a jack o’lantern filled with memories.

Author: Barb Kiger