Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Category Archives: Personal success

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.

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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 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.

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.

5 poisons of the mind – #2 – Doubt

When we doubt something, we are questioning its value. When I doubt what you say is true, I am questioning the truthfulness of what you say. When I doubt myself, I am questioning my own value and abilities.

Doubt does serve a purpose. It stops us momentarily as we evaluate something. Where doubt becomes a problem is when it becomes negative. If we doubt that we can do something, but we go ahead and try anyway, our doubt may only be a safeguard. But when we doubt and then give up without trying, we allow our own thinking to block us from growing.

Negative self-doubt is poisonous. If your first response in facing something new is, “There’s no way I can do that!”, then you very likely won’t even try, and you will have already failed. So while doubt can be a tool that serves to guide us away from danger, it can also become a weapon we use on ourselves, which guarantees our failure.

If you always choose what to do or how to think based on pessimistically doubting the value or outcome of an action or plan, then you are allowing your doubt – which exist exclusively in your own mind – to determine your future.

So learn to doubt wisely, that is, to doubt without choosing to let your doubts be your only guide.

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.

Find out what doesn’t work; then don’t do it.

The goal of all learning is to improve your ability to do something. So it’s not surprising that many success strategies claim that by learning something new, you can change your life. And in some cases this is true. For example, learning how to drive does change your life and give you the freedom to take advantage of opportunities that were not previously available to you. Learning to speak a foreign language opens your mind up to new ways of thinking. So there is something to this strategy.

However there is another strategy that I believe is equally effective. It is summarized in the title above: Find out what doesn’t work, and then don’t do it. When we are trying to change our lives, it is often hard to begin and then maintain the new habits that are required to make the change permanent in our lives. I believe this is because we have not first removed the thoughts and habits that stand in the way of our making these changes.

So let’s say you want to change how you deal with a difficult person. You can try new tactics, but I believe that until you stop doing the things that aggravate the relationship and distort your perspective, these new tactics will be only minimally effective. Before you can strengthen the relationship, you have to first stop doing the things that make the relationship unpleasant. If you want to listen more, you have to first stop speaking and focus on the other person and their needs. If you want to understand the other person’s perspective, you have to first stop planning your responses to them while you are listening and actively listen to the other person.

In other words, you have to first identify and acknowledge the actions or habits that stand in the way of improving the relationship. Then you have to actually stop doing them.

This may not sound as glamorous as trying out some new and trendy tactic. But I believe this is actually easier and more effective than simply changing your behavior. In fact, I think that unless you first get rid of the habits of thought and action that are undermining your attempts to change, these ingrained habits will ultimately trip you up, no matter how determined you are to use the new tactics. The challenge is often identifying one’s own habits that so often subtly undermine efforts to change.

So don’t give up trying new strategies. They do add value. But make sure you also weed out the old habits that are holding you back, so that the new strategies can take root and become your own.

“Winging it” rarely leads to success

Many people would like to believe that they don’t need to make plans for how they will succeed in life. They simply take events as they come and make the most of them.

While this may work for some people, I doubt you will find many high-performing people leaving much to chance. They know what they want and they deliberately plan for how to reach their goals. They also know that with a plan in place they can handle the unexpected things that always happen along the way. And the unexpected always happens.

As a case example, I think we all admire the Navy Seal Team that captured Osama Bin Laden. It’s exciting to imagine the soldiers secretly flying into Pakistan and dropping out of the sky in their surprise attack. And even their plans did not go perfectly. Despite the flaws, the mission succeeded.

What we don’t see is the work behind this success: the thousands of hours of planning and drilling. the raids that were carefully planned and then abandoned at the last minute due to outside events, and the emotional toll of waiting for OK to start the mission. We don’t see that the Seals’ success here had a very high price – we see only the glamorous results.

Our lives work the same way. Success always has a price, and it must always be earned. Our lives and the experience of the successful people we know will confirm this.

This confirms our first rule of success: success in any area requires discipline, and this means taking the time to think through what we want and then making a plan for how to get to our goal. Understand the time commitment required and invest in planning for success! Don’t leave success to chance.

Change before you have to

Most people hate change. I know I do. Change means that they need to think and act differently. It’s hard and uncomfortable. Unfortunately most positive growth experiences require change, which is something we see only in hindsight.

So why not take charge of the process of changing? Why wait until someone or some situation demands it? Is it more comfortable to have to change than to manage the process for yourself in advance?

Learn to change before you have to. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Easy to say, hard to do. I know. But I’ll bet you have already changed in significant ways. You just haven’t given yourself credit for what you did.

Think about your job. Unless you are a complete failure you have had to make some significant changes in your life to be good at your job. You’ve had to actually show up and do work that meets someone else’s standards. More than likely you’ve also had to deal with gossips and time-stealers, bosses who are unreasonable and coworkers who try to sabotage your work and customers who treat you like servants. You’ve had to be a much stronger, more confident and determined person than if you had never held a job at all. You’ve had to rise above yourself to meet other’s expectations. You’ve had to change. But I’ll bet your didn’t congratulate yourself on these accomplishments. Were you uncomfortable? Sure! Did you find personal resources that you didn’t know you possessed? I hope you did.

So you have already proven that you can handle change. You just didn’t know it.

Now get out in front of the process and pick something you need or want to change and get started. Lean into the discomfort and realize you won’t die. Get a partner to help you get through the sticky patches where your motivation and focus may slip, set some goals and keep score. Follow up with your supporters and mentors regularly. And change before someone makes you change.

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