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Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Category Archives: Personal Choice

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.

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.

Stop playing the victim!

In my experience most people don’t realize that they are playing the victim in their life. They see their life and circumstances as predetermined, and often blame past events or their circumstances for their problems. As long as they have this attitude, they are not open to change.

How do we know when we are playing victim?

Listen to the ongoing conversations you have with yourself. Are you regularly making excuses as to why you can’t do something? Are you blaming others for making your life difficult? Are you setting limits on what you will try to do in life? Are you constantly whining about how hard your life is?

Anytime we allow something other than ourselves to control our mental life and choices, we are giving away our power to change. The essence of playing victim is giving up the power to choose for ourselves what kind of life we will live.

The first step in choosing not to be a victim is to accept that you are in charge of your life. This doesn’t mean that you can instantly change your life for the better. It does mean that you can control your actions and your attitude, regardless of how things turn out for you, and that you can succeed despite the obstacles in your way. As one author put it, “The person who will not be defeated cannot be defeated.”

Making this choice may sound easy. But I can tell you from experience that it is not. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again until it becomes a habit. It requires both persistence and patience.

So here’s an exercise to see where you are playing victim in your life: Over the next week pause once or twice per day and scan your thinking for any thoughts where you are consistently making excuses, whining and blaming others. Don’t try to change these thoughts or argue against them, simply notice that they are occurring. If you do this consistently you will see patterns in your thinking where you repeatedly play victim. Once you see these patterns, you can develop tactics to counteract them.

The key here is to get these unhealthy thoughts out in the open where you can examine them and decide if they are helping you live the life you want or standing in your way. Once you see the thoughts that are hindering you, it can be easier to address them and become more aware of how they are undermining your attempts to become a better person.

Suggested reading: Unbeatable by Jack Schropp. His chapter on being a volunteer rather than a victim is outstanding.

Growth is a choice

We can learn a lot about a person by watching how they handle misfortune.

I thought of this after re-reading one of my favorite motivational books – The Ways We Choose by Dave Carey. The author spent five and a half years as a POW in Vietnam, and after he left the Navy he made a living as a public speaker. In the book he writes about the strategies he and his fellow prisoners used to survive the years of confinement. One of the principles that really struck me was that they chose to grow through the experience. Imagine being disciplined enough to choose to use a horrible situation as a means of personal growth. Seems almost superhuman.

To me, this shows the power of our personal choices. I know we’ve probably all heard this before – that we can choose the kind of life we will have and not become victims of circumstances or bad luck. But this book really drives home the point that we have far more power over the quality of our lives that we imagine. Too often we wait for circumstances to change so that our lives will improve, rather than deliberately choosing to start doing things to improve our life. We keep telling ourselves, “I’ll be happy when… (fill in the blank.)”

As several authors have pointed out, hope is not a plan, even if it feels like one.

I learned this the hard way. Years ago when I applied to graduate school my application was rejected. I had spent my entire undergraduate career preparing for applying to this particular school, and I was devastated when I was turned away. Naturally I was in shock. I was angry. I was ready to give up.

But after the shock wore off I had a choice to make: should I wait and re-apply, or start another career?

I chose to wait a year, find something else to do, and re-apply the following year. So I spent the year training to be an auto mechanic, and re-applied to graduate school a year later. I was accepted.

I could have spent one full year of my life feeling depressed and waiting for another chance, killing time and feeling sorry for myself. Instead I went out and got training in an area that was way outside my comfort zone – training which over the years has paid for itself many times over in maintaining and repairing my own vehicles. I chose to grow through the experience of being turned away from graduate school.

This lesson has stayed with me and helped my through some very difficult times. Over and over I have been reminded that sometimes the only way to gain some value from setbacks and misfortune is to find a way to use it to grow personally.

So remember that your choices are powerful, and that the primary reason you don’t have the life you want may be that you didn’t choose to make the most of the experiences that came your way, even if they were not the experiences you would have preferred.


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