Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Tag Archives: Change

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.

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.

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 2018, 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.

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.


Don’t count on it – willpower vs structure

Many people believe that if they had enough willpower they could change whatever they wanted in their lives. And to some degree this is true. If you truly want to change something in your life, you will find a way to do it. But very often we count on using willpower alone to bring about change, and we know from sometimes painful experience that willpower has its limits. Relying on willpower alone is often not enough to bring about lasting change.

Many factors can limit your willpower. If you are tired you may give in to things that you normally would resist. If you are in a group you may find yourself doing and saying things that you would never do on your own. And if you are under stress or pressure you may decide that doing what you initially planned is not worth the effort or risk.

So willpower by itself is never enough to guarantee success. So don’t count on it.

Instead, build structure into your life so that you don’t have to rely only on having enough willpower. Get enough rest and eat properly so that you don’t get run down. Avoid groups that appear leaderless or that have agendas and ideas that don’t align with your values. And if you are under stress consciously choose to put off making choices that you may later regret. And if you need help making the right choice, get help.

The best medicine is prevention, and this requires that we think through the situations we may face, and decide beforehand how we will handle them. Once we are in a bad situation it is very hard to get out. So don’t allow yourself to be tempted in the first place.

As a personal example, I keep the same routine every weekday. I get up at the same time, and start working promptly at 8 am. Even on days when I don’t feel like working, this structure gets me started, and once I’m started it’s much easier to continue. I take my lunch at the same time each day, and finish up by 5.30. This simple structure makes my days much more productive.

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) and really listen to them?

Quite a list. Most days I don’t score all that well. But I’m not discouraged. Now I’m more 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.

The golden moment when change is possible

There is a moment in every action we take where we can choose what to do next. It’s the seconds between hearing a critical comment and making a response. It’s the gap between having a thought and expressing it. It’s the time between making a decision and acting.

I call this the Golden Moment.

Once this moment is past, we can’t go back. We’ve reacted in anger, said something hurtful, or done something that can’t be undone. Life has no undo button.

Yet in this moment there is immense freedom. For it is in this moment that we can choose a different course, different words, different actions. But very often we fail to recognize this moment, and therefore we fail to use it for our advantage.

How can we make the most of this moment?

First, recognize that it exists. We always have a chance to change our course.

Second, learn to enjoy the moment. Take a little longer to respond. Hang out in this moment and really experience it. Stop the momentum of your thoughts and emotions and let them settle.

Lastly, treasure these moments. These are where you can make course corrections. You don’t have to react the way you “always” do. And when you miss a moment, don’t beat yourself up. Realize that you missed that particular moment and move on. There will be others. Life is rarely a one-shot deal.

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