Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

The future is never what we expect it to be

When I was growing up, I knew what I wanted to do for a living. I knew what I was good at doing. I went to school for years to become better at it. So why have I spent the last 25 years working in a completely different field where I had no training, limited experience and where I never expected to work? What happened?

What happened was the future. What happened was that I had to make choices that I never anticipated. I had to choose between making a career in a field that was highly political (and didn’t pay well), and getting into a field that would support my family and bring me some satisfaction. Then I had to choose between moving up the corporate ladder and giving my family some stability. Now I’m looking at choosing what to do next as my options are becoming more limited in the field where I work.

No one ever told me that the future would turn out this way. I’ve learned the hard way. Circumstances that I could not control forced me to make choices I never anticipated. I don’t like this. But I’ve learned that I can’t change it.

Despite the fact that I didn’t ask for the life I have and that sometimes I feel very dissatisfied with it, I have learned some useful lessons. Here are a few:

  • If we knew what would happen to us in the future we would not be happy, since we would have no choice about it.
  • Uncertainty is built into our lives, and while this may make us uncomfortable, it also gives us opportunities to grow and develop.
  • Some things we can control; others we cannot. Knowing the difference between these is crucial.
  • Other people’s choices impact our lives, often in ways we don’t like.
  • It’s better to have a plan and try to follow it – even if it fails – than to leave things to chance.
  • Your attitude toward your life is independent of your circumstances.

Yes, the future is never what we expect it to be. And we can become better people than we ever dreamed possible by accepting this fact and choosing to respond to our circumstances in a positive manner.

Here’s an example of what that life might look like:

“There are those whose faces are so alight with life that they serve as a blinding reminder, amid the darkness of our time, that joy and charisma and hope still exist. These are the energizers, the cheerful individuals who inspire and enliven those around them even though their own backgrounds, genetics, and environments would give cause for them to be apathetic and detached. They, too, might have come from a broken home or poverty. But instead of choosing bitterness, they seem blissfully aware of, and deeply thankful for, their blessings, even when those blessings are fewer and more meager than others. These few, the energized and happy and thankful among us, are not “lucky,” nor are they to be envied. For their treasures are available to all of us. Their treasure is freely chosen attitude.”

(From The Motivation Manifesto by Brendon Burchard)

Your choice.

 

 

Emotional Tripwires

In an earlier post (12/13/2011) I referred to the Golden Moment – that instant of time between our decisions and our actions – that allows us to change our habitual ways of responding to people and circumstances in our lives. When we have time to think clearly about deciding on doing or saying something, we can usually avoid trouble. But what about the times when we don’t see the emotional trip wires in our path? What about those times when our emotions outrun our thoughts and we do or say something harmful?

The solution I have found is to pay attention to those times when my emotions are aroused – when I’m reacting more from feeling than thought. I stop and pay attention to how emotionally aroused I am as I go through a day. I usually find that I experience a range of emotions – from calm to alert to irritated – all in the course of a single day. I have learned that I have predictable reactions to different types of events and people. Disorganized and unfocused meetings usually make me irritable. Unplanned changes to ongoing projects tend to make me feel stressed. Taking time to discuss how to better manager a difficult project or individual usually makes me feel more in control of my workload

By regularly observing how I tend to react to these situations, I have learned where my emotional trip wires lurk.

I think we’re less likely to be blindsided by our emotions when we can recognize how active they are at any point in our day and act accordingly. If you know when you are emotionally out of balance you can delay taking actions or saying things that you may regret later. But if we don’t learn where our emotional trip wires are, we will likely continue to be tripped up by our immediate emotional reactions that can cause us so much trouble and also cause others to think less of us.

So if you take some time to learn your own emotional range in time you will be able to see the trip wires that so often cause you to react in ways that often defeat you. Your emotions may still surprise you and at times get the best of you. But you’ll be better able to manage them instead of allowing them to continue to trip you up and embarrass you.

Learn to Say Goodbye

I used to hate airports.

It seemed to me that every time I was in an airport, I was saying goodbye to someone.

I said goodbye to my parents at JFK when I left to live and work in Europe. I said goodbye to my wife when she flew home after helping me move to another state. And I watched my wife and 2 daughters get on a plane and leave for Ukraine for an 8-week vacation. To me visiting an airport always meant someone was leaving.

What I learned from these experiences was that life brings many opportunities for leaving someone or something. We often have no choice in these situations, and they can be hard. And I also learned that parting can be an opportunity for growth.

I never would have mastered Swedish, made many new friends and come to enjoy life in Sweden if I hadn’t said goodbye to my parents on that May afternoon and flown off to a country I had never seen before. I would not have had the opportunity to work for one of the largest companies in the world if I hadn’t moved to the Midwest. And my wife and daughters would have missed the vacation of a lifetime if we hadn’t been willing to part company when they set off for Kiev.

So I’ve learned that learning to say goodbye is important. I’ve also learned that sometimes we need to deliberately say goodbye to people and things in our lives that are not positive, and are not making us happy and more effective as human beings.

We can say goodbye to bad habits that trap us in behaviors that stifle our growth.

We can say farewell to people who bring negative energy into our world.

We can say adieu to ways of thinking that don’t serve us or others.

Not only can we say goodbye in these situations; in some cases we must say goodbye if we want to grow. It’s not easy, as it usually seems more comfortable to work around people, habits and patterns of thinking that are already a part of our lives rather than walk away from them.

But the things we tolerate control us.

Bad habits may seem comfortable to us, but they often blind us to new opportunities for growth.

Negative people may seem like our best friends but they can drain us of our emotional energy that we can use elsewhere.

And thoughts that undermine us and limit our effectiveness may seem comfortable and familiar, but they are traps that keep us from seeing new opportunities.

So I’ve learned to say goodbye to the things, people and situations that don’t serve me well. Sometimes I have to temporarily tolerate things that are not healthy for me, but in the long run it’s best to leave these behind.

I still don’t look forward to saying goodbye to people I love and circumstances that make me effective. But I’m learning that having the courage to say goodbye to something that doesn’t serve me well is often what opens the door to something new that enriches my life and helps me become a better person.

Top 20 tactics so far – a checklist for personal growth

For those of you who like lists, here’s a checklist of topics I have covered in my earlier entries:

1 . If you don’t define success for yourself, someone else will.
2. Good intentions are not enough.
3. Change before you have to.
4. You always have choices, even if you don’t like them.
5. There is no success without discipline. Success is not an accident.
6. Find out what doesn’t work, and then don’t do it.
7. You are only a victim if you choose to be a victim.
8. Never be in a hurry to lose.
9. Criticism is never welcome, but it can help you know what to work on.
10. Setting goals requires both a “what” and a “why”.
11. Feeling fearful is normal. It’s usually a sign that you need to take some action.
12. Fail better. Success rarely comes without the lessons failure provides.
13. Build structure to support your efforts to grow and change. Willpower is overrated.
14. Know the difference between success and satisfaction.
15. The fear of failing is often worse than actually failing.
16. Your habits will make or break you. Choose them wisely.
17. Real and lasting growth comes through small changes.
18. At all times tell the truth about your life.
19. Take some action every day to move toward your goals.
20. Have a personal code to guide your choices so you don’t get trapped by circumstances.

7 things you can do today to improve your life

If you are looking for some simple but effective ways to improve your life and feel better about what you do each day, try incorporating one of these actions into your daily routine:

1. Smile. Not only will others appreciate this, you’ll feel better as well!

2. Say “Please” and “Thank you” consistently – and be sincere. It’s good for you to recognize that others are helping you, and it’s also good for them to feel appreciated.

3. Look people in the eye when you speak to them. Don’t stare – this isn’t a contest. Look at them for a few seconds and then look away to one side. Don’t look down – it makes you look weak.

4. Use a person’s name when speaking to them. Don’t overdo this. Just remember that people like to hear their names. Adding their name now and then pleases them, helps them focus on what you are saying and makes them feel important.

5. Allow others to talk about what interests them without competing with them. Let them tell their stories without adding your comments about how your own experience might be similar or ever better. See the next point.

6. Stop trying to win all the time. Let others go in front of you in line when they are in a hurry. Let the rude drivers have their way – they’ll get their own reward. Winning may feel good, but too much of it will make you an unpleasant person.

7. Listen 2x longer than you usually do. If you usually listen to others only long enough to put together your own response, add an equal amount of time to think about whether your response is really appropriate. You can add value to a conversation with a little thought or a thoughtful question.

Real personal change comes from consistently applying a few tactics rather than trying to change your whole life all at once.

Tell the truth about your life

If you are unhappy with any part of your life, the first step is to tell yourself the truth about it. This sounds simple, but it’s often very difficult. But without knowing how you really think and feel about something, you won’t have a clue about how to change it. So the first step in this process is to confess how you really feel about the things that are bothering you.

We often discount the truth about these hard situations because we are afraid that we can’t change them. And in some cases this is true. We can’t always change things that we don’t like. For example I can’t change the fact that my job is in Atlanta but all my extended family members live elsewhere. I simply have to live with this and adjust the best I can. I can, however, choose how to think about this situation so that I don’t make myself miserable. I can choose to see this situation as beyond my control, and plan to call or visit family members whenever possible, so that the connections remain strong.

But we frequently let ourselves off too easily when we don’t take the time to find out the real causes of our discontent. So here’s a technique for getting to the root of your feelings about a situation.

Complete each of the following sentences honestly:

When I think about this situation I feel….
What I dislike most about this situation is ….
If someone close to me knew about this situation they would tell me ….
The one thing I wish I could change about this situation is ….
If I didn’t have to deal with this situation I would be able to ….

Each one of these sentences forces you to look deeper at the situation and confess a little about how you feel. By slowly unwrapping the thoughts that surround it, you are moving closer to the core issue. Now pick an area of your life where something isn’t working and ask yourself these questions. You may be surprised to find that the real reason you are unhappy is quite different that the reason you tell yourself at first. Read more of this post

7 reasons you are not successful – and what to do about it

Actually, there are probably many more reasons you are not as successful as you want to be. But let’s start with these.

1. You don’t know what success looks like – for you. You measure your success using someone else’s yardstick. If you do this, you will almost always come up short, since you see the great results of their work but you don’t see them actually struggling to get things done. Outcomes can be deceiving. Success is personal, and differs greatly from person to person. Choose your own yardstick carefully.

2. You don’t have goals. You have dreams and ideas, but no goals – nothing that gets you so fired up that you feel compelled to go after it. So you go after whatever crosses your path instead of what inspires you. Take time to learn what moves you, and then pick goals that allow you to spend time doing things that light your fire. If you don’t know what moves you, ask your friends and family members. They often know what lights your fire better than you do.

3. You don’t have discipline. You wander from one idea to another, and you don’t stick to any one plan long enough to see how it turns out. This is not only tiring, it’s also discouraging. So pick one small project that you can complete in a week or two, plan how to accomplish it, and do what it takes to finish it. You may be surprised how much this small effort can inspire you.

4. You don’t have enthusiasm. You push yourself to get things done, but you’re not inspired. Everything seems hard. Stop working and learn how to play. Pick a hobby and really go after it for 6 months. Schedule your “play time” and stick to it. It will refresh your mind and free up energy for other areas of your life.

5. You don’t have support or structure. You let other people, circumstances or events drive your choices, instead of designing your days around your priorities. You go it alone, and your friends can’t help you because they aren’t sure what your want. So let your friends and family know what you want and tell them how they can help you.

6. You are waiting for success to find you, instead of hunting it down yourself. Success is elusive, and sneaks up on your when you are not looking – but only when you are working on something that inspires you. So get busy with something that lights you up and you may find that success is looking over your shoulder.

7. You have given up on yourself. You don’t see enough value in who you are or what you can do, so you let life happen to you instead of directing it to your advantage. This is serious. It’s also a lie. You have value as a person no matter what your circumstances. And the best way to find and increase this value is by using whatever talents and resources you have to help others. You will get back what you put out.

And if you are wondering how I know all this, it’s because I’ve made all these mistakes myself.

The amazing power of the small good deed

Every day I read about people who do great things to help others. They give a million dollars to help a cause, spend 2 months helping people in a developing country, or organize thousands of people to achieve a goal. I’m always impressed. At the same time I usually feel depressed when I read these things. My thought is that I couldn’t do anything that grand. I don’t have the skills and usually I don’t have the time. Not to mention the courage. So I beat myself over the head a little, and then move on.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that while “big” good deeds may be outside my abilities, I can’t claim the same for the small ones that come up every day and that I often ignore because I’m “busy”.

I can always smile at someone to show that I notice them and that they are worthy of my attention. I can hold a door for someone, carry a package for them, give a compliment or a hug, or let them go ahead of me in line if they are in a hurry. I can listen to a friend who needs help with a problem, or help a stranger with directions.

There’s really no excuse for not doing these things. Other than selfishness. And selfishness isn’t something I want to promote – in myself or anyone else. So I’m working on getting over my selfishness and reaching out to others – one small good deed at a time. It’s tough sometimes, but when I get it right it’s always rewarding.

As an example, recently I was among several hundred passengers stranded by bad weather in the Philadelphia airport. As we all lined up to try to see an agent about our limited options, I noticed that the people in line were pretty hostile. I heard many of the people ahead of me in line arguing with the agents and criticizing the airline. I made a conscious choice to act differently. When my turn came I smiled at the agent and said, “It certainly looks like you are having a very challenging day.” She smiled and laughed as she took my now-useless boarding pass and started working on alternate arrangements. We chatted as she worked and laughed together as she struggle to get the overloaded system to print my new boarding pass. When it finally came through she handed it to me, smiled, and said thank you for a nice chat. I thanked her and went to catch my train.

So what could have been a very tense exchange turned out very differently.

Nothing grand here. Just two people working together in a difficult situation. And both of us came away less stressed and more productive than we would have if I had been aggressive.

So don’t overlook the small good deeds you can do each day. Their value is usually greater than you imagine.

7 tips for New Year’s resolutions that stick

The beginning of a New Year is traditionally a time for new beginnings. It’s a chance to start over, to begin new projects. But many times we find that despite our best efforts, we soon fall back into old patterns.

So as you make your promises for next year, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Focus on the new year and what you will do differently.
Don’t let the experiences of the past year determine what you try to achieve in the new year. Start fresh. You can look back at what you learned in the past year, but don’t build your goals for the new year only on avoiding the mistakes you made in the last 12 months.

2. Choose one area of your life to focus on.
Don’t try to change too many things at once. It’s better to pick one area of your life and focus only on it for a year. Making changes in your life takes time and energy. A sharp focus will increase your chance of success.

3. If you set goals, make them realistic.
Many people fail to reach their goals because they have too many goals, or because their goals are not realistic. Don’t challenge yourself to do too much or you’ll give up when the going gets tough (and it will get tough). Use milestones to keep yourself motivated.

4. Remember that structure beats willpower.
Making changes in your life requires willpower, but willpower is rarely enough to get you through the tough times and discouragement that comes with trying to improve. So built routines that support you in making changes. And let people who care about you know what you are trying to do – often they will offer support to help keep you going.

5. Expect setbacks and discomfort.
It’s rare that a person can pick a goal and then reach it without facing a few setbacks. These setbacks are part of the process of growing. Don’t fear them. They happen so that you can learn what you need to overcome to reach your goal.

6. Measure your progress and reward yourself for reaching your goals.
When you reach a milestone, celebrate. You need to reward to keep your motivation up.

7. Avoid the “all work and no play” trap.
Maintain a balance in your life as you make changes. Take time to enjoy what you have already achieved. Spend time with friends, take all your personal and vacation days. And regularly remind yourself that the willingness to change and grow is one of the greatest strengths we possess. It is the key to self-improvement.

You can make resolutions that really do help you change yourself and your life if you follow these simple rules and regularly remind yourself that change requires time, energy, and a willingness to tolerate temporary discomfort.

2 helpful tactics if you are unemployed

If you are hunting for a new job, you probably already know that the work involved in doing this can take over your entire life. You can spend hours online researching companies and developing new contacts. It can take a half a day for 1 interview. And getting the paperwork you need ready for each meeting can also consume many hours.

If you have been searching for several weeks, you already know how draining all this can be. Finding balance in your life and maintaining your motivation can be very difficult. Here are 2 things you can do to help keep yourself on track:

1. Every day do something you can do well or easily. I call these mastery tasks. These can be routine tasks like food shopping, banking, cleaning or mowing the lawn. Doing this as a break from your job hunting will help recharge you and give you a feeling that you can do some things well.

2. Every day do something that brings you pleasure. Taking time to read something inspiring, going for a walk, exercising, and eating a favorite food can also help recharge your energy and give you a break from your work. You may feel guilty about doing this, but I recommend doing it no matter how guilty you feel. All work and no play is not healthy.

I don’t think anyone is really cut out for the work that job hunting requires. So make sure you take care of yourself and maintain a good balance of work and relaxation throughout your search. This will help you be at your best when you meet potential employers.

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