Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Tag Archives: Self-Knowledge

Tell the truth about your life

If you are unhappy with any part of your life, the first step is to tell yourself the truth about it. This sounds simple, but it’s often very difficult. But without knowing how you really think and feel about something, you won’t have a clue about how to change it. So the first step in this process is to confess how you really feel about the things that are bothering you.

We often discount the truth about these hard situations because we are afraid that we can’t change them. And in some cases this is true. We can’t always change things that we don’t like. For example I can’t change the fact that my job is in Atlanta but all my extended family members live elsewhere. I simply have to live with this and adjust the best I can. I can, however, choose how to think about this situation so that I don’t make myself miserable. I can choose to see this situation as beyond my control, and plan to call or visit family members whenever possible, so that the connections remain strong.

But we frequently let ourselves off too easily when we don’t take the time to find out the real causes of our discontent. So here’s a technique for getting to the root of your feelings about a situation.

Complete each of the following sentences honestly:

When I think about this situation I feel….
What I dislike most about this situation is ….
If someone close to me knew about this situation they would tell me ….
The one thing I wish I could change about this situation is ….
If I didn’t have to deal with this situation I would be able to ….

Each one of these sentences forces you to look deeper at the situation and confess a little about how you feel. By slowly unwrapping the thoughts that surround it, you are moving closer to the core issue. Now pick an area of your life where something isn’t working and ask yourself these questions. You may be surprised to find that the real reason you are unhappy is quite different that the reason you tell yourself at first. Read more of this post

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5 poisons of the mind – #5 – surprise

The last of the 5 poisons of the mind is itself surprising. After all, who doesn’t like a surprise?

But in this case I am talking about a kind of surprise that works against us. It’s a way of surprising ourselves. We might call it anticipation. And here’s why it’s dangerous.

Suppose you are planning to ask your friend to lend you something. In the past there had never been a problem borrowing things from this friend. So you call him up and ask how he is doing, and then proceed to make your request. But instead of getting an easy yes, you get a “No”. In your mind you had anticipated getting a positive response, and so you had already begun thinking about what you would do after your friend granted your request. Now you are stuck. His response was a surprise you had not anticipated. Your plans are now in trouble.

In this simple example the stakes are not high, and you could probably work around not being able to borrow something from your friend. But what about when the stakes are higher? We often make assumptions about what will happen in our lives, how others will react, and anticipate what we will be able to do based on these assumptions. In many cases our assumption are correct – or close enough. But when things don’t work out, the consequences can be dramatic.

What about a car that fails to stop at a light and simply drives through the intersection? Surprised? You thought the driver would stop.

What about the storm that doesn’t look very threatening until you hear hailstones hitting your car? Surprised? You didn’t think it would be this bad.

What about the well-dressed man who tries to rob you? Surprised? How could this be happening to me?

I’m not saying we should be paranoid. But we must be aware of the assumptions we are making about the people and circumstances around us. If we fail to do this we will, at some point, be surprised. We will believe that what we assume about the world and people around us is the reality. It isn’t. And while we may have options – avoiding the stray driver, hiding from the storm, or fighting back again those who try to take advantage of us – these choices may not be very good ones. It’s better to know up front what we are assuming and make even a minimal plan to preserve our choices.

No one wants to be a victim, but our anticipation and assumptions can make us vulnerable. Hence the 5th poison of the mind – surprise.

5 poisons of the mind – # 1 – Fear

Emotions can enrich our lives. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of pleasure that comes from accomplishing something difficult or helping someone who is in need? Who doesn’t like the delight that accompanies mastering a new skill? And who doesn’t  comprehend the relief that comes when we forgive someone who has hurt us deeply?

Emotions add color to our lives. However they can also darken our experiences, and we need to understand how to recognize and manage the emotions that don’t serve us well. Here’s my list of the 5 most dangerous ones:

Fear

Doubt

Anger

Hesitation

Surprise

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Fear causes us to freeze, to hesitate and doubt ourselves and our abilities. It is often an instinctive response to new situations and experiences. If we don’t acknowledge it and factor it into our lives it will secretly dominate our lives. What we fear controls us. It distorts our thinking and limits our willingness to grow.

We can’t will fear away. We have to work around it. And we can use it to our advantage.

Personal example: I dislike heights. Climbing ladders freaks me out. But I own a house where I have to use a ladder to do certain jobs. So I have learned to manage my fear. I know I am going to be nervous when I’m 25 feet up, so I factor this into my actions. I acknowledge the fear, and use it to slow myself down and focus on doing things safely, one step at a time. The fear doesn’t go away. I redirect it to help me succeed.

The result? I’m still afraid but I get the work done. I don’t expect the fear to go away. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. And the bonus is that now I know that fear doesn’t have to stop me. I know I can manage it and use it to perform better.

Don’t fight fear. Understand its value in protecting you and redirect its energy toward your goals.

Compared To What?

I believe we all naturally compare ourselves to people we know. We instinctively want to know how much better (or worse) we are compared to them. Do they make more money than we do? Do they have more friends? Do they seem happier than we are? Are they “better” than us?

These are not healthy thoughts. Comparing ourselves and our circumstances to the very limited amount we know about other’s lives is dangerous. It is a set up for failure. Here’s why.

We can never know enough about another person’s life to make an accurate comparison with our own life. We don’t see it when the person earning $200k per year goes home to an empty apartment and drinks himself to sleep. We may see others with more “friends” than we have; but what we miss is the fact that no one really knows the person, and he has no close friends that he can count on. And if we think others are “happier” or “better” than we are, we probably don’t appreciate what we have all that much.

So go ahead and make comparisons if you wish. But understand that you will usually come out looking inferior – because you don’t have all the facts about other’s lives and rarely can get them all. It’s not fair.

There is a better way.

Instead of comparing yourself to another person, compare yourself to the person you were 10 or 20 years ago. Unless you haven’t made any attempts at all to improve yourself, you are probably a better person today than you were then.

Personal example: I knew a lot more 20 years ago than I do now. I was infallible (and probably unbearable at times.) Now I regularly pause and question my own judgment in a healthy way, as I’ve learned that being infallible carries a terrible price in human relationships. Twenty years ago I was going to change the world; now I’ll be grateful to change 1 or 2 of my own bad habits. This isn’t discouraging for me. It tells me I’ve matured in at least one area of my life. My perspective is healthier.

Compared to the person I was 20 years ago, I’m a much better person. At least I think so. And I’m much more effective in working with others than when I was the Infallible One.

So if you want a fair and realistic comparison, look back at who you were and how you have grown. I think this is a lot more satisfying and motivating than comparing yourself to people whom you really don’t know and in many ways can’t know well enough to see the full spectrum of their experiences.

If you are going to make comparisons, make helpful and positive comparisons rather than comparisons where you are guaranteed to come in second – or worse.

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 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.

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.

The fear factor

Fear often keeps us from doing what we want to do, or know we should do. It can paralyze us and make us act foolishly.

The bad news is we will always feel some fear when we take risks.

The good news is that we can learn to factor fear into our decisions so that it doesn’t hijack or hinder us. If we know how we react to risky and stressful situations, we can acknowledge the fear without letting it stop us.

Think about making a major change in your life – changing jobs, starting or ending a relationship, moving to another state or a foreign country. Major fear factor here. You may even feel the fear as a more or less permanent knot in your gut. Good. It means you are aware that you are moving out of your comfort zone, that you are about to grow. It means you are getting ready to move forward.

Expect to feel fear when making these changes. Remind yourself that some fear is good, that it raises your awareness of things that need attention. Turn the fear into an ally and listen to its warnings. But remember that feeling fearful is never a reason to stop doing what you know you need to do.

Fear should be your guide, not your enemy.

Setting goals requires both a “What” and a “Why”

Setting goals is a key practice in the process of improving your life. Most of us can easily come up with a list of things that we want to be different in our lives. We want more money, more time, more friends, less stress, a nicer car, bigger house and more satisfaction. I’m all for keeping a list of things that would make life better. But in my experience making lists rarely leads to change.

Why is this? At least part of the reason is that every “what” also needs a “why”. We need to know the reasons behind what we want, because the “why” drives the “what”. For example, if I want to change careers, it’s important to define what my new career should look like. It’s equally important to know why I want to make this change. If my “why” isn’t very strong, it’s unlikely I’ll achieve my “what”. If all I want to do is escape my current situation, I’ll probably give up after I have a few good days at work. But if my reason for wanting a change is to have the chance to take on new challenges that I can’t find in my current job, or to work in a completely new environment, then I’m more likely to follow through on making the change.

So make sure you know the “why” (or “why’s) behind all the “whats” on your wish list.

The importance of self-knowledge

Self-knowledge is a vital factor in your path to success, because your skills, talents and experience are the foundation of your success. There is no point trying to be succesful in an area where you lack the ability to excel. As an example I’m not good at conceptualizing things; I’m much better with physical objects I can manipulate. However I know a young man who can understand  abstract concepts instinctively, and he is going to be a very successful architect. I’m not. However when it comes to manipulating data or writing, I can beat him hands down.

So how do we acquire accurate self-knowledge? That is a very good question, since we are often very aware of our shortcomings and perfectly blind to our talents. Here are a few easy ways to recognize your own skills and talents:

1. People compliment you on your ability to do something well.

2. You choose to do it on your own time and with your own resources.

3. Someone is willing to pay you to do it.

4. You lose track of time while you are doing it.

5. You can’t understand why other people find it so hard to do.

So if you do nothing else after reading this, try writing down your top 3 skills or talents – things that you can do easily. My 3 are:

1. Analysis

2. Writing

3. Public speaking

Once you know your key skills and talents you can then start to look for opportunities to use these. You will find more satisfaction is situations where you can use the skills and talents you possess. So take the time to find out what drives you, and then go find situations where your skills are in demand, and where people appreciate you for what you can offer. And if you are in a job or situation where you are not feeling motivated, it could very well be because you can’t use the talents that make you effective and allow you to contribute.

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