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Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

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5 poisons of the mind – #3 – Anger

Anger always feels right. When we are angry it always seems justified. Someone has hurt us or circumstances have defeated us, and it feels good to lash out at the other person, at our fate, at ourselves, the weather, God and whoever else happens to be nearby. And the more we practice getting angry the easier it is to become angry. Anger can be addictive, and always seems justified. But we don’t need to practice getting angry.

Anger also blinds us. When we are angry we see only how our own world has been attacked. We can’t see how others may be impacted, or how our angry behavior may frighten others; and for the most part at these times we are not interested in other’s suffering. Anger shrinks our world down to only our own, very limited perspective. It creates mental tunnel vision.

Anger has a value. When I get angry at someone who has been told many times not to do something, but who chooses to do it anyway, my anger serves to let the person know, “Hey, I mean this!” However, within this anger must be an undeniable sense that I care for the person. I’m angry not at them, but at the danger they put themselves in, at the warning they ignored. And the secret here is that once the person acknowledges this, my anger must cease. Being angry at someone just to show off or because it feels “right” is inappropriate and unfair. So know when to be angry, and when to stop.

It’s important to observe what you say to yourself after you have been angry. Do you justify your action, claiming that it was the right thing to do, that the person who hurt you needed to hear what you said, that they had it coming? Or do you honestly admit that perhaps you were out of line, that a different response would have been more useful and helpful, or that walking away and addressing the issue at another time may have been a more mature response.

If used wisely anger can teach us what we care about, and where we need to be careful of overreacting to life’s injustices; but left unchecked its fire will scar both you and those you seek to correct. Use anger wisely, or it will use you.


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.

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 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.

Winning too much will hurt you

We all like to win. We play to win. But sometimes trying too hard to win makes you a loser.

Ever hear yourself saying, “I’m not going to step to one side to let that person past. I shouldn’t have to move!”

How about, “I’m going to pull forward so that guy can’t cut in front of me!”

Or, “I was here first!”

Sounds pretty immature to me. Yet I’m as guilty of anyone else of participating in these juvenile internal conversations. I like feeling righteous and victimized.

Who doesn’t?

But do you admire people who think like this, or act in ways that reveal that they are thinking these kinds of thoughts? I don’t. I don’t even like myself when I catch myself thinking this way.

This is how winning too much can hurt you. It makes you do selfish but seemingly righteous things. It make you mean.

So when the stakes are low, let the other person have their way. They are not going to admire you for crossing them, but they just might be a little embarrassed when you are courteous to them despite their adolescent behavior..

Easy is usually not the best way

We like easy. Easy is, well, easy. But easy is also a trap.

If we always take the easy way, we will not be challenged (read uncomfortable), and we won’t grow much. If you like the way you are now and don’t really want to grow, go ahead, take the easy way. But if you want to improve yourself and your life, and help the people around you, watch out for easy.

I’m not saying to avoid the easy way at all costs. I’m saying don’t make it your default setting.

Easy often sneaks into our lives in disguise.

It’s easier to procrastinate than start something you really don’t want to do.

It’s easier to swallow your feelings than to confront a bullying manager and try to improve the situation.

It’s easier to stick to your routine rather than try something new.

In other words, it’s easier to remain who you are right now. So just how happy are your with your current life/career/circumstances? More importantly, how much are you giving to the people around you? Are you helping them become better or merely aiding them in avoiding change?

Beware of easy. It’s very easy to put off doing the hard work of changing and growing. Everything of value in life must be earned, and this requires work. There is no magic. If you want something you must do the work to deserve it. This isn’t easy.

Real artists ship

Steve Jobs reportedly said this to some programmers who were reluctant to stop working on their code and allow the product that included their code to ship to Apple’s customers. Seth Godin focuses on this in one of the chapters of his recent book, Linchpin. Says Godin, “The purpose of starting is to finish.”

Real artists ship. And determined people change.

Anytime we set out to make a significant change in our  lives, we need to make sure we know when to ship, that is, when we need stop analyzing what we will do and actually do it. I have found that people (including myself) can put an amazing amount of thought and energy into planning and talking about what they are going to do to improve their lives or start a new venture. But they never ship. They never set a goal together with a timeline and actually start. And if there is no pressure to ship your product, there’s also no urgency to change. It’s just an intellectual exercise.

So learning how to ship is vital, both for individuals and for companies. We can all learn how to set a goal, make a plan and set milestones and deadlines for evaluating our progress. And if you are having trouble shipping, it can be very helpful to get a partner and share with them your plan and timeline so that they can help you stay on course.

And remember that there is no such thing as change in the future. Change only occurs in the now.

No success without discipline

If you were going to take a vacation to a place that you had wanted to visit for many years, how would you go about doing this? Would you simply pack a suitcase and head off? Or would you take some time to sit down and plan your trip so that it would be all that you expected?

If you take the first approach, you might have a great time. If things worked out for you and there were no problems with your arrangements, it could be wonderful!

On the other hand, if you ran into problems, what resources would you have to help you out?

If you take the second approach, you would plan first the outline of your trip and then all the details that were necessary. You wouldn’t need to plan every single detail, but enough to know what to do at each point in the trip.

What’s strange to me is that people will spend hours and sometimes days planning a vacation, but they won’t apply the same structure and discipline to their personal goals. And I’m as guilty as any one else in this area.

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.

Good intentions are not enough

Good intentions are cheap. We can have any number of them for free. We can brag about what we are going to do, especially to people who are in no place to evaluate our future performance. And we do. Or, at least I do. Brag, that is.

But when it comes to getting better at something, be it a job skill, your ability to negotiate, or your talent for finding a bargain, good intentions are not enough. In fact, they can be a trap. Feeling good about having good intentions is dangerous, because the good feeling disguises our lack of willpower.

I’m not a big believer in willpower. I’ve seen it fail way too often. Sure it has its place, but don’t rely on it.

I do believe in accountability, that is, in sharing your good intentions and goals with someone who will encourage you to remain committed to following through on them.

I believe in keeping score. If you can figure out a way to record your progress in some visible manner that motivates you, go for it.

And I believe in follow-up, that is, in going back to the people with whom you have shared your committment to see how you are doing.

So if you want to progress toward your goal – any goal – get a partner, keep score and follow-up. And save your good intentions.

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