Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Monthly Archives: December 2011

Do 1 thing different

New Year’s resolutions rarely last. Too often they are just nice ideas rather than actions that we can measure. So this year skip the list and choose 1 thing to DO differently. Focus on that 1 thing for 365 days, keep track of how often you do it successfully, and I’ll bet you will make more progress than if you had a list of good ideas as long as your arm.

My 1 thing for 2012? Letting other people shine, appreciating them for the talents they have, and learning from them, and not trying to top their ideas and experiences by offering one of mine in comparison.

And yes, I’ll be keeping score.

Happy 2012!

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Don’t count on it – willpower vs structure

Many people believe that if they had enough willpower they could change whatever they wanted in their lives. And to some degree this is true. If you truly want to change something in your life, you will find a way to do it. But very often we count on using willpower alone to bring about change, and we know from sometimes painful experience that willpower has its limits. Relying on willpower alone is often not enough to bring about lasting change.

Many factors can limit your willpower. If you are tired you may give in to things that you normally would resist. If you are in a group you may find yourself doing and saying things that you would never do on your own. And if you are under stress or pressure you may decide that doing what you initially planned is not worth the effort or risk.

So willpower by itself is never enough to guarantee success. So don’t count on it.

Instead, build structure into your life so that you don’t have to rely only on having enough willpower. Get enough rest and eat properly so that you don’t get run down. Avoid groups that appear leaderless or that have agendas and ideas that don’t align with your values. And if you are under stress consciously choose to put off making choices that you may later regret. And if you need help making the right choice, get help.

The best medicine is prevention, and this requires that we think through the situations we may face, and decide beforehand how we will handle them. Once we are in a bad situation it is very hard to get out. So don’t allow yourself to be tempted in the first place.

As a personal example, I keep the same routine every weekday. I get up at the same time, and start working promptly at 8 am. Even on days when I don’t feel like working, this structure gets me started, and once I’m started it’s much easier to continue. I take my lunch at the same time each day, and finish up by 5.30. This simple structure makes my days much more productive.

Fail better

No one likes to fail. No one plans to fail. But we all fail at something at some time in our lives.

Failing is embarrassing, even humiliating. Public failure is devastating.

I still remember trying to lead a class auction in 5th grade. I had neither the personality nor the skill to do this. And after several very painful minutes I was very publicly replaced. That was nearly 40 years ago. So the memory of failing can stick with us for a long time.

Since we are going to fail at times, it’s very important that we have the right attitude toward failure. If we fear it, we will magnify its impact in our own minds. If we see it as a normal part of growing, it will still hurt when we fail, but we’ll be able to move past this experience. And for those who actually see failure as a growth opportunity, they may feel some temporary disappointment. But they’ll be right back trying again as soon as possible.

So how do you fail? Do you see your failures as temporary, or as a permanent fixture in your life? Do you evaluate what you did incorrectly, choose 1 thing to do differently in the future, and move on? Or do you wrap your entire life around your failures and shy away from new experiences?

The choice is yours. But I encourage you to fail well, to make failure an ally on your path to personal growth. Choose to grow through the experience instead of becoming a victim.

Learn to fail better.

P.S. After my failure as an auctioneer, I later made a living as a public speaker and trainer. So I did manage to get over this – but the memory remains, and I use it to remind me that failure isn’t fatal.

Feedback isn’t effective until you really listen

Learning to benefit from feedback from others requires work. We don’t naturally want to listen to others, especially when what they are saying makes us uncomfortable. But without feedback – even unpleasant feedback – we don’t know what we need to change.

Here are some ways we often unconsciously sabotage others’ efforts to give us feedback:

1. We ask for feedback and then argue with what is said. We try to prove the other person is wrong.

2. We tell people that their ideas are misguided or no good or won’t work; really a variation on #1.

3. We invite people to give feedback but structure the conversation in such a way that they can’t easily give it, most often by talking too much.

Feedback is effective when we truly listen by turning down the volume on the running dialogue in our own heads and focus on what the other person is saying. Our default belief must be that they are telling us something because they want to help us, and trust that we’ll be able to tell if they are out to help us or hurt us.

Most often we can tell the difference between helpful and hurtful feedback by the way the other person qualifies their statements. Sincere feedback is hard to give, and the other person is often as uncomfortable as we are in the situations. They may say things like, “I’m not sure this is accurate but I thought I would mention it”, or “Feel free to tell me this is incorrect, but I think….” Hurtful feedback is often unfiltered and indiscriminate. “You’re a jerk” or “Can’t you say anything nice!” are rarely helpful hints.

Ask for feedback and practice accepting what others’ offer. You may find that they care about you more than you realize – if you give them a chance to help you.

The comforting lies we tell ourselves

It is often very difficult to gain an accurate perspective on one’s own life. We are often so busy living our lives that we may have a hard time finding time to evaluate where we are, and where we want to go. It’s also often the case that when we do take time to evaluate our life, our perspective is distorted by the lies we tell ourselves to comfort ourselves. It’s more difficult to be completely honest with ourselves than we realize.

We tell ourselves little lies to soften the hurt that so often comes from unrealized dreams and expectations. If we don’t get the job we want, we tell ourselves that it wasn’t a good fit for us anyway. If our relationships with others become strained, we explain this to ourselves by saying that they are distracted or busy. And if our circumstances are not what we wish, it’s very easy to blame the economy.

These are comforting lies, and they do have value. They shield us from the shock that we would feel if we faced the truth head-on all the time. They defend us from harm in the short-term. But they were never meant to be a cure. So while they provide protection from harm in the short-term, if we want to grow we need to get beyond these defences and deal with the reality that hides behind them.

How do we do this?

First, we acknowledge that we are using these defenses and that they have short-term value.

Second, we choose to move beyond these defenses by confronting them and calling them what they are – first line emotional reactions.

Third, we gain perspective on these defenses by writing them down or sharing them with a trusted friend.

Facing reality in our lives is not easy, but it is essential if we are to move ahead.

In my own life I held onto to a dream of being able to return to a career in which I had failed earlier in my life. For years I dreamt of finding a way back to this job. It was only after I honestly faced that fact that I was not really good at the job that I finally let it go. This was not easy, as I had invested years of education and hard work into becoming successful in this field. I walked away from some significant investments – and released the energy that had been tied up in this dream to spend in other areas of my life. And this has made an enormous difference in how satisfied and committed I am to the areas of my life where I am successful and find satisfaction.

So work to get past the lies that comfort you now, but trap you in the present and prevent you from becoming even better in the future. You deserve better.

You don’t need permission to be successful

Are you waiting for someone to give you permission to be successful? Do you need specific circumstances or factors to be in place before you can succeed? Are there “conditions” that have to be met before you can move ahead toward your goals?

I have found that many people limit their potential by saying (mostly to themselves), “I’ll be successful when….” They then wait for the circumstances, people or other factors that they imagine are necessary for their success to magically appear in their lives. And they often wait a long time, and frequently become discouraged.

They have made their success depend on someone else giving them permission, or for the”right” circumstances to materialize. They have surrendered control of their lives to someone or something outside themselves.

I’ve done this to myself. My list includes such things as, “I’ll be successful when:

1. I have $200k in my retirement fund. (Only $180k to go.)

2. I can retire at 60. (Five years from now?!)

3. I’ve won the Mega Millions lottery – minimum $150M please. (Haven’t bought my ticket yet…)

4. I’ve traveled to all 25 of the foreign countries on my wish list. (Only 12 to go.)

Not likely I’m going to feel very successful anytime soon. I’ve set myself up to fail.

It would be better if I looked at success another way. Using the right yardstick makes all the difference. Here are some of the high points so far:

1. Happily married for nearly 26 years.

2. Raised 2 smart and successful daughters, both now with careers of their own.

3. Encouraged my wife to get back into her chosen profession and supported her while she grew her small business into a full-time job.

4. Remodeled my own kitchen for $4500 instead of spending $17,000 to have someone else do it.

In other words, if I define my life in a balanced yet realistic way, I can find success. Now all I need to do is build on my past successes.

So don’t wait for the right time, circumstances or resources to be in place before you say you are successful. Look honestly at what you have already achieved, and the skills that you used to accomplish these things. Take these skills and put them to work for you in other areas of your life. They are your key to becoming even more successful. And you already possess them.

Make haste slowly – a personal daily checklist (revised)

For anyone who wants to change something in their lives, it seems to take forever before they see any results. This is because our habits and ways of thinking don’t change quickly. And we don’t want them to. Imagine that these were easy to change and that they could be changed every few hours. After a short time you would lose your sense of who you were. You wouldn’t be able to tell your new experiences from the old. And you would cease being able to function effectively.

So be grateful for gradual change. Work with it.

One way that I personally use this fact to my advantage is to use a daily checklist of things that I want to work on. Right now my daily list looks like this:

How many times today did you:

1. Smile at others.

2. Show appreciation for someone for what they did for you.

3. Make someone feel important / allow them to talk about themselves without interrupting them.

4. Try to prove you were right or win, even in something trivial.

5. Tell someone why their idea won’t work.

6. Use another person’s name when greeting them.

7. Talk to others in terms of their interests (instead of your own).

Quite a list. Most days I don’t score all that well. But I’m now aware of what I need to change, and I can focus on these skills and not worry too much about the other 1,398,641 things that I might get wrong on any given day.

I’m making progress, and it certainly isn’t dramatic. But it is progress and I know that the changes I make in this way will last.

You can’t handle the truth

Most of us don’t handle the truth about ourselves very well. We don’t want to know the truth because it makes us uncomfortable. It means that we are not perfect, that we are flawed and inferior.

But is also means that we are human, and as human beings we have the power to change.

Most of us will go a long way out of our way to avoid learning something negative about ourselves. We will avoid people whom we have hurt so we don’t have to face them and see the hurt in their eyes. We will back out of conversations when the topics become uncomfortable and might expose a weakness. And we will avoid bringing up topics and confronting others who offend us because we don’t want to face the potentially nasty consequences of these exchanges.

I’m as guilty of these offences as anyone one else. Just recently I managed to get through an entire half-hour conversation with my boss without either of us ever addressing the real issues between us. We’ve been doing this once per month for several months now, and it’s pathetic. I don’t handle the truth well, either. So I need to change this.

Here’s the strange part to this: I know that if I face these issues things will get better. But up to now I haven’t been willing to pay the price to get to the “better” place. So I need to act like an adult and to this.

How about you? Are there conversations you should be having? Apologies that you need to make? Actions you need to take?

What better way to begin a new year than to leave behind one issue that you don’t need to carry with you into the next year. So pick one – you already know what I’m going to do – and do it. Do a little planning and thinking about how you want to do it, and then – Nike style – just do it.

You will find that living a life based on facing the truth will indeed set you free.

The golden moment when change is possible

There is a moment in every action we take where we can choose what to do next. It’s the seconds between hearing a critical comment and making a response. It’s the gap between having a thought and expressing it. It’s the time between making a decision and acting.

I call this the Golden Moment.

Once this moment is past, we can’t go back. We’ve reacted in anger, said something hurtful, or done something that can’t be undone. Life has no undo button.

Yet in this moment there is immense freedom. For it is in this moment that we can choose a different course, different words, different actions. But very often we fail to recognize this moment, and therefore we fail to use it for our advantage.

How can we make the most of this moment?

First, recognize that it exists. We always have a chance to change our course.

Second, learn to enjoy the moment. Take a little longer to respond. Hang out in this moment and really experience it. Stop the momentum of your thoughts and emotions and let them settle.

Lastly, treasure these moments. These are where you can make course corrections. You don’t have to react the way you “always” do. And when you miss a moment, don’t beat yourself up. Realize that you missed that particular moment and move on. There will be others. Life is rarely a one-shot deal.

It can be dangerous to ignore changes in your environment

I recently heard a manager tell his team that despite the difficulties that the team was facing, life was what they made it. And while I’m all for positive thinking, sometimes this way of thinking can blind us to the reality of our situation.

Some situations are not worth tolerating. Some environments are toxic. Some people are poisonous. Some jobs are undoable.

No amount of positive thinking is going to improve these kinds of situations or relationships. These require action in addition to optimistic thinking. And it’s important to know if you need to change, or if you would be more successful in a different environment.

How can you tell if it’s you who have the problem or if your problems are the result of an unhealthy environment? Here are a few of the signs I use:

1. Are you the only one who feels that the situation or environment is unhealthy? Do other people in similar situations – team members or friends – feel the same? If you are the only one who feels uncomfortable it’s very likely that you have a problem.

2. Are you getting the support you need to be successful, or are you expected to accomplish your goals with little or no outside support? In other words, have you been abandoned.

3. Is the situation just as stressful now as it was 6 or 12 months ago? If things aren’t improving despite your best efforts, it’s most likely the environment.

4. Are your efforts never good enough? No matter how hard you try to meet expectations, you always come up short? It could be that you are expected to fail.

These a just a few signs that the environment may be the issue. It doesn’t mean you are off the hook and don’t need to change. But it may mean that you will be better off looking for a new environment where you will have the opportunity to be succesful without living in constant stress, and with little hope of feeling any pride in what you achieve.

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