Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Category Archives: Personal growth

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.

 

 

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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 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.

Micro commitments

In my last post I talked about the importance of making small changes in our lives and how these can be more effective than trying to make big changes. It is often easier to start and maintain small changes over time, as every change requires focus and energy.

Today I want to introduce the idea of micro commitments.

Micro commitments are time- and situation-limited commitments we make to ourselves to help build up our ability to make and stick to them. They help us build our commitment muscles.

An example would be choosing to focus on doing something unpleasant for 15 minutes, rather than saying that you will wait until you feel more inspired. You make the commitment for a limited time and situation and when you keep this commitment, you start to build up your ability to keep larger commitments.

The power of micro commitments is that we can use them in situations where we don’t have the time or the energy for larger changes, but we want to start making changes. We can make them for an hour, a day or for a single situation. And each time we succeed we build up our ability to make and keep larger commitments.

I use micro commitments every day to help me manage the tasks that I would otherwise put off. It’s better to do something small to move you toward your goal than it is to either put off doing something or beat yourself up because you didn’t do something positive. Try it for yourself. Start with small tasks and gradually build toward larger ones and watch your commitment muscles grow!

Growing through small changes

We all have things in our lives that we would like to change. Perhaps we’re not eating right or getting enough exercise. Or we are working too many hours and not getting enough rest. We know we need to make changes. And every now and then we get inspired and try to overhaul our entire life. And for a few days we feel really motivated. And then we skip a day. Then 2 days. A week goes by and we don’t keep up our new routine. And now we feel even more depressed because we couldn’t maintain our new routine.

When we do this, we set ourselves up to fail. Major life changes require an intense focus and lots of energy – two things we often don’t have when we want to make a change. If we do this often enough we will come to believe that we can’t change.

There is a better way. We can make small changes that can grow into big changes.

Rather than trying to change your entire diet, pick 1 or 2 small changes and keep them up for 30 days. For example, eat 1 less snack per day, or eat only healthy snacks between meals. Drink water instead of soda. Go for a walk 3 times a week instead of making yourself do it every day. Go to bed 1 hour earlier 3 times a week. Notice how these changes make you feel. If they make you feel more positive about yourself and your life, keep them up. If they are not helping to motivate you, try something new. Keep going until you find something that you look forward to doing, so that you will keep at it.

When you find the right combination, you will feel better about yourself and your life – and you may also find that other parts of your life start to work better. This is the bonus that comes with making small changes and maintaining them over time.

For more inspiration, check out Doug Grady’s book, The Ripple Effect. It’s Doug’s story of how 1 small change led to bigger, positive changes in his life. It’s available on Amazon at the link below.

http://www.amazon.com/Ripple-Effect-Doug-Grady/dp/0983360790/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345647914&sr=1-1&keywords=doug+grady

Why failure beats fear

Which is worse – the fear of failing or actually failing?

All of us have things that we won’t attempt to do since we believe we will fail when we try. We’re not interested in finding out if we are right about them or not. We’ve decided that whatever it is, it’s not worth attempting – the potential cost of failure is too high.

Note that it’s the fear of failure and not failure itself that keeps us from trying. We don’t actually know if we would fail, and fear keeps us from finding out if we are right or not.

I’m not in favor of failure, either. It’s no fun, it can be painful, and the memories can last a lifetime. But I am very much in favor of failure when it is the result of thoughtful planning and a sincere effort to achieve something. (More players lose at the Olympics than win.) Failure is a form of feedback, a form of learning. For example, when children fall off their bikes while they are learning to ride, they get feedback, and they can learn that they need to sit or balance in a different way. Then they can try again. When we try to solve a problem and the method we choose fails, we get feedback, and we can learn to adjust our approach.

Personally, I would rather deal with failure than fear. I can’t fight fear. It’s like a ghost that appears and taunts us, but when we try to suppress it, it vanishes only to appear later. Failure, on the other hand, is often concrete. We fall and hurt ourselves trying to climb a tree. We get a D and learn that being good at math requires far more work than we thought. We lose a job due to our lack of judgement, spend money on plans that fall through, and say or do things that drive people away from us. We can correct these mistakes, which failure has made clear. But we can’t remove the fear that colors our anticipation of failure.

So for me, failure beats fear. I can learn from my mistakes, but I’ll never grow from the mistakes I’m afraid to make.

 

Success or satisfaction?

Each person defines success in their own way. For some, success is measured in what they own or whom they know. For others, success is based on the experiences they have had and the people they have become. For most people, success is a very personal matter.

However, if we don’t properly define success for ourselves it can be a trap.

Do you really want the big house or the boat, or do you want to feel important and impress people?

Do you want the important job with the fancy title or do you want to make a difference in the industry and in people’s lives?

When you define success for yourself, make sure that what you want to achieve will also bring you satisfaction and will help others. After all, there’s no point in owning a big house if you have no one with whom to share it. And the important job that destroys your personal life may not bring you the lifestyle you want and in the end it may cut you off from the very people who you most want in your life.

Success may bring satisfaction, but satisfaction is more often what we truly want.

 

 

5 poisons of the Mind – #4 – Hesitation

When faced with difficult choices most of us hesitate. Some of us hesitate longer than others, and some people simply freeze when confronted with hard choices. Most often we pause because we are waiting for more information. Sometimes we are waiting for a sign that it is OK to proceed. We crave clarity in our decisions and actions. And often it makes sense to wait until we have enough information to make a sound decision. But not always.

The hesitation that poisons the mind arises when we know what we need to do, but we delay. We say we need more information when in fact the real issue is our emotional discomfort. We don’t want to face the situation, person or decision right now. So we delay. And delay. And the opportunity or choice goes away. And then we doubt our ability to make decisions. So the next time we face a decision we question ourselves and hesitate again. Over time we develop a habit of waiting too long, and opportunities vanish and people no longer ask us for our opinion.

It’s OK to hesitate because we don’t know enough to make a good decision or because we are caught off guard. It’s not a good idea to hesitate simply because we are not emotionally prepared to choose or because we would rather wait. Choices go away and situations change rapidly. Opportunities evaporate.

So it’s good to learn to tell the difference between hesitating because you truly need more information, and hesitating because you are scared to make a commitment. And you can prepare yourself for situations and decisions that you see coming your way. When fortune calls, you don’t want your response to be, “Can it wait just a second?”

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