Are you counting your blessings or focusing on what’s missing?

In the previous blog I talked about how the rat race to achieve more and meet our life objectives often prevents us from being present and living our life in the moment.  

This is a very common modern life dilemma that many ambitious and successful people face: how to set exciting goals in all areas of our life, work hard to realize them (because that is what it takes), and while doing that fully enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

How do we slow down enough while we are going so fast?  

How to grow as many roses as we want AND also stop and smell them on a regular basis?

This has definitely been one of my life learning curves. I am a visionary and an ambitious person. I have big dreams aspirations in all areas of my life: professionally, in business, financially, staying healthy and fit, having an amazing marriage with my wife of 30 years, and deep closeness with my 3 kids and extended family. I want to ‘have it all’ and I want to be present and enjoy my journey as I go through it, not just when I get there “someday”.

My wife Na’ama has made a huge difference in keeping our focus and awareness on our accomplishments and how blessed we are, in all areas. The conversation of gratitude has become an integrated part of our family life because Na’ama has been a relentless champion for this. She constantly reminds each of us, especially when we face adversity, how lucky and blessed we are in our life. She always helps us shift our focus from what’s missing, wrong, and not working to what IS working and what we feel grateful for.

Several years ago we started a practice of ending each day with ten minutes of writing down (journaling) the answers to the question: “What are four things I accomplished today? and “What are four things I feel blessed and I am grateful for today?” Even if we had a bad day, or felt that we didn’t accomplish anything we still answered these questions.

What I learned from this process was that I had an abundance of things to claim as accomplishments, and an abundance of things that I feel blessed and grateful for. In fact I had many more than 4 each day. And, the more I focused on accomplishments the easier it became to find them and the more fortunate, empowered and energized I felt. Standing in that space enabled me to accomplish even more.

Our writing practice compelled us to have more conversations on a regular basis about what we are accomplishing and what we feel blessed and grateful for. The ‘counting our blessing’ conversation became a daily affair, and as time passed it infected our kids and close friends as well.

As Fr. D’sousa wrote – the events, obstacles and ups-and-downs of our life should not keep us from living our life to its fullest, now. On the contrary – our day-to-day journey, no matter how good or bad, contains in it an abundance of small, medium and large victories, accomplishments and things to feel blessed about.

Living courageously means highlighting these accomplishments, embracing our fortunes and allowing ourselves to be inspired by our own life every minute and day.

If the ideas and practices that I shared in this blog resonate with you I encourage to try them on and share what you learned from that.

If you feel that you are great at living the moment – please share what you do to live in that space.

Are you living your life in the moment?

In my professional experiences as a coach, as well as my own life journey I’ve seen a particular mindset that often dominates our day-to-day lives. As members of a modern, ambitious and demanding society we have the inclination to go through life with the sense that we are “not quite there yet.” We set goals for ourselves and then along the journey we often forget that WE are the ones who set these goals. We fall into the trap of feeling that only when we realize these goals and other achievements “we will really make it, and then be able to truly relax and enjoy life to its fullest”.

Consider this quote from Fr. Alfred D’souza, which I thoroughly love and resonate with:

 “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.  

The entire “retirement” concept is predicated on this premise – we work extremely hard throughout our life, often sacrificing and neglecting key areas like family, marriage, health and recreation, in order to achieve financial and professional goals that would allow us to get to that stage in life where we can retire and then “truly start doing what we love to do”

We so often equate our material achievements and success with our self-worth. We get caught in the hamster wheel of jealousy and competitiveness, and even when we do reach certain milestones we don’t take the time to appreciate and celebrate what we have accomplished. Instead we move right into the next goal and the rat race continues.

And, lets be honest, the prevalence of social media doesn’t help at all! In fact, it only makes the pressure worse. Instead of only seeing our neighbor’s new car, we are now connected with thousands of “friends” online and seeing how others live their lives. No wonder we often feel like the grass is greener on the other side.

Throughout our prime years as we are working our butts off, we feel like “when we get the next promotion…. close the next deal…. make the next million…buy the house or car of our dream” or “get our children through college” or “married”…. “THEN life will truly be great”.  But then when we reach old age we often talk about our life as “the good old days”.

So if throughout our life we feel that “someday” we will start living and then at the prime of our life we feel like “the good old days are behind us”–

When is it our time? When do we ever enjoy today… the moment???

In my next blog I will talk about: “How to get out of this vicious circle”, “How to live with a daily experience of appreciation, accomplishment and counting our blessings” and “How to be in the moment and enjoy the NOW”

I will also share some practical things you can do to sustain that mindset and life experience.

How Great are YOU willing to be?

Maybe that seems like an odd question to ask. Who wouldn’t want to be Great?

Perhaps it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

It is my life’s goal to ignite, energize and empower people. In fact, it’s my job, and most of it is in the workplace. My work is about empowering people; reminding them of who they are and how great and able they can be. When people are empowered in the workplace, it spills over into other areas of their life – work, marriage, parenthood, family, and social circles.

But I have noticed that often people are not that eager to become empowered.  Despite what they say they don’t seem to be interested in experiencing themselves as powerful, great, resourceful, and larger than their circumstances.

The logic is clear: if they accept themselves as enabled and unstoppable, they are admitting that they have the capability to create and produce much more than they do today. Unempowered people have less opportunity in front of them, and more excuses for why they can’t do things. They experience themselves as smaller than their problems, so they always have a way out.  They do not challenge themselves to change or think beyond their comfort zone. This is an easier and safer way to live. If they become empowered, if they begin living courageously, they have to bring innovation and resourcefulness to all aspects of their life. This could be scary.

However, the cost of staying unempowered is dear.  Self expression and confidence are eroded. And there is a constant feeling that “maybe I am missing something. Maybe I’m not living to my full potential.”

By simply confronting the benefits and costs of living unempowered, people regain their ability to choose. They begin to see that it is possible to choose courageous living, and to regain their self-expression.

Are you afraid to fully express yourself? Are you willing to choose empowerment?

How great are YOU willing to be?

Living Courageously Through Journaling

My last series of blog posts focused on living courageously: doing something everyday that scares us, eliminating cynical and jealous thoughts, making time for self-improvement.

Courageous living means identifying your dreams and goals and taking an honest look at the situations and circumstances between you and your dreams. A great place to start your journey to a more courageous life is in a daily journal.

The Benefits of Journaling

Scores of studies have been done on the benefits of daily journaling. By turning into ourselves and disclosing our feelings and thoughts in a safe environment, we are giving ourselves permission to process, reflect on, and take responsibility for our actions and reactions. Daily journaling has been shown to relieve stress and ease psychological strain. It’s also a very effective tool for realizing our subconscious goals and determining what’s really standing in our way to living a courageous life. Journaling is a way to regain control of emotions in a safe environment, which instills a feeling of “powerfulness”, even mastery over our emotions.

I consider myself a very lucky man. I have an extraordinary marriage, a loving family, great friends, I am healthy and in good physical shape, I have built a very successful international consulting business, and overall I am a very passionate, energized, positive and optimistic person. But, like many other successful people my life is often very intense.

The opportunities and challenges associated with providing high quality services to my clients while continuing to generate and grow my business and make the time to keep myself and my family in great shape often keeps me up at night.  And beyond the day-to-day I often think about my goals, how to achieve them and how create the next levels of success.

I have people in my life who serve as sounding boards for bouncing ideas, and clarifying thoughts. However, given everyone’s hectic schedules we are not always able to have these enlightening conversations on a real-time basis. Journaling has been a very powerful and useful way for me to clarify my own thoughts, gain insights into what I need to do about challenges and opportunities that are on my mind, create the next steps in personal and professional areas that are important to me and sometimes simply clearing any clutter that accumulates in my head from time to time.

My wife introduced me to journaling more than 15 years ago and I have been practicing ever since. I don’t do it every day, only in periods in which I feel the need and desire to stay focused, centered and objective. I have also recommended the practice to my clients on occasion, and they’ve always acknowledged that this has made a difference for them too.

How to Get Started

Daily journaling is like any other habit; you acquire it through practice. For some, the blank page may instill a sense of fear. Where do I start? What should I say? The beautiful thing about journaling is that it doesn’t matter where you start or what you say.  This is your own, private space to say whatever comes to mind.

An easy place to start is, “Right now, I feel ________. “ or  “Today, this happened and this is how I feel about it.”  Start small, a few sentences, or give yourself a time limit.

Do not worry about being judged, sounding foolish, or making mistakes. This is your domain. Be courageous! And most importantly, be as honest as you can in that moment. It takes courage to admit to yourself when you’ve been living cynically. But when you journal about your feelings and about your situations, you can identify the patterns of behavior that are keeping you from living a truly courageous life.

Join the Conversation

What experiences do you have with journaling? What’s keeping you from trying it? Or if you are an avid journal keeper, what benefits have you noticed? 

What Scares You?

Living courageously doesn’t mean that you’re never scared. It means that you learn to embrace your fear and move past it — to allow it to strengthen you rather than weaken or paralyze you.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

I love this quote, because it helps me remember the importance of stretching myself, of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and taking a stand for the things I want in life but am afraid to pursue.

Stay True to Who You Are
The key is to align your choices, behaviors and actions with who you are or who you want to be and what is most important to you — to try new things that feed into your larger life goals and commitments.

For example, I am committed to always being courageous, generous and passionate in all aspects of my life. That’s who I am and who I want to be. When I’m living in that space, I’m always energized and happy. I always feel like my life is working. And, I also achieve great things and am able to make the biggest difference with others.

When I become petty, stingy, cowardly and/or cautious, I immediately start suffering. My energy deflates, the magic dries up and my ability to make things happen and support others reduces significantly.

So, just like I go to the gym a few times a week to keep my body in shape, I practice doing one thing every day that scares me, in order to keep my being in shape. This could mean being generous with someone beyond my comfort zone, saying yes to opportunities that require me to work with new people, designing and leading programs that require new thinking, speaking in front of audiences I’ve never addressed, initiating relationships with people I find intimidating, or even simply saying “thank you” or “I’m sorry” to someone when it feels awkward or embarrassing.

Regret Hurts Worse Than Failure
Why is it so important to step outside our comfort zones? Because we are far more likely to regret the things we never dared to try than to regret our failures. After all, failure is merely an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work — which puts us one step closer to learning what does.

Many people are miserable because they feel they left something on the table. When you know that you gave it your all (even if it didn’t work out), you have a sense of peace. You might not always be happy, but your self-esteem is intact. You have no regrets. You know that if it didn’t work out like you wanted this time, you can always try again. Better yet, you know that you are capable of doing things you didn’t think you could do. You strengthen your belief in yourself, and that’s a powerful, courageous way to live. But, if you didn’t live up to your vision of who you are, you will most likely have a sense of defeat, failure and diminished self-worth.

Join the Conversation
I would love to hear from you. Please share examples of “scary” things you’ve done and how that affected your overall happiness. Also, in what areas of your life could you start doing things that scare you? 

What’s Killing Your Courage?

Courageous living is powerful, rewarding and, in my humble opinion, the only way to really live life. But while the concept is simple, applying it is not always easy. Living courageously means learning to ignore the naysayers — including the one in the mirror.

The Enemies of Courage
The biggest enemies of living courageously are negative emotions and attitudes, such as cynicism, resignation and jealousy. People often become convinced — by things others have said or by their own unenlightened thoughts — that they can’t have what they want, that they are not capable or worthy of achieving their dreams. I have seen many people stop believing in their goals and dreaming about their desires and resign themselves to the idea that what they want to do, be or have is impossible. And so they stop trying to go for it.

Often the cynical conversations that lead to resignation stem from jealousy. We compare ourselves to others and come to the conclusion that they are better, smarter or more successful than us. We make undermining comments about others who we feel are more successful — businesswise, financially, family-wise, etc. We look for what’s wrong, broken or imperfect in these people’s lives as a way to feel better about ourselves. Having convinced ourselves we can’t have what we want in life, we attempt to convince others they can’t have it either.

Any conversation that makes us doubt our dreams, our self-worth and our ability to have the life we want is an enemy to courageous living.

Change the Dialogue
I once heard someone describe courageous living as “ordinary people living with an extraordinary commitment.” I resonate with both parts. With the “ordinary people” part — they have doubts, fears and undermining thoughts like everyone else — and with the “extraordinary commitment” part. When these internal undermining thoughts and conversations come up, instead of saying, “No, you’re right; I can’t do that,” courageous people ask, “Why not? Why can’t I fulfill my dreams and have what I want or do that?” These people refuse to accept defeat or to take no for an answer. They insist there’s a better way. And so they find one.

Join the Conversation
Please share what you think. What have you been telling yourself that you can’t do? What have you let others tell you is impossible? And how do you intend to prove them wrong?

Are You Living a Courageous Life?

While most of us would agree that courage and bravery are positive qualities, many people would not use these words to describe themselves. Most people are still too afraid to live the life they truly want — afraid of taking risks, of failing, of being disappointed or of what others might think.

However, everyone has the ability to live courageously. As the Wizard of Oz tells the Cowardly Lion in L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s story, “You know, of course, that courage is always inside one.”

So what is courageous living? How do you know if you are living courageously?

Courage Starts Inside
Courageous living is our innate ability to take a stand for the future we want to have and then allow that vision to begin to shape our priorities, choices, behavior and actions.

Courageous living starts with who we’re being. We must be willing to think for ourselves, to make decisions that are true to us regardless of social norms and what other people think, to dream our dreams, to believe in ourselves, and to take a stand for what we want.

It’s believing: Yes, I can achieve my goals and dreams. Yes, I can be as rich or successful as I want. Yes, I can have the family and the love that I want. Yes, I can live where I want.

Decades ago, after my wife and I had our second child, Eden, we decided to emigrate from Israel. Professionally I was doing OK there, but it was a small pond, and the prospects for success were limited. Wanting to build a better life for our family, we moved to North America. Our original plan was to live in the United States, where we had friends, but we ended up in Canada because of visa requirements.

That was a very scary period for my wife and I. We didn’t know anybody. We had two young kids, and I was away from home 80 percent of the time during that first year developing my career and building the prospects for our future success. Then, after a few years of working in a company where I wasn’t fully satisfied and didn’t feel that I could fulfill my dreams, I decided to start my own business.

That really required courage. I was terrified that I would not be able to provide for my family. I had many sleepless nights questioning my decision of giving up my safety net. There was no guarantee. But I had a vision of my life that required us to take some risks and make a stand for what we believed was possible. And we never looked back!

Courage Takes Many Forms
Courageous living doesn’t just apply to the big, life-changing decisions — such as whether to leave a safe job and start your own company or whether to leave an unhappy marriage. It’s also important to take a courageous stand for the little things we want out of life.

For example, my wife has a very busy schedule. She runs some of our businesses, raises our kids and manages our household. She is an amazing wife, mother and professional. She patiently and generously takes care of everyone around her, including me. She is also a very talented artist — but her busy life has previously kept her from doing what she enjoys for her self-expression. So, several months ago, she made a decision to dedicate one day each week to her art, regardless of everything else that is on her plate.

Courageous living could mean making time for your hobbies or for exercise and not neglecting “you.” It could mean quitting smoking, learning a new skill, applying for a job you’re not exactly “qualified” for, or simply deciding that you will find a way to attend your child’s soccer games.

Living courageously simply means that you take a stand for what you want in life — however big or small — and you stick with it, no matter what.

Join the Conversation
Please share your views about what courageous living means for you. What have you achieved or overcome in your life — big, small or medium — that took independent thinking and courageous living?

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 4): Rules of Future Engagement

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the last three weeks, we have examined the first three steps for generating this kind of breakthrough:

  1. Both parties must authentically desire a transformation and commit to having the conversations necessary to take the relationship to a new or better place.
  2. Have an honest, open, rational conversation about the history in order to drive closure, complete the past and bring the relationship back to the space of nothing (zero).
  3. Generate rich, exciting possibilities for the future of your relationship.

This week, we’ll cover the fourth and final step: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions and practices that take the relationship to the next level.

Turn the Possibilities into Reality
This phase of the conversation is about cementing the new possibilities you’ve generated for your relationship with clear promised actions and practices. If the last step was all about creating rich possibilities, this phase is about narrowing the playing field and committing to specific actions.

Most people like to keep commitments ambiguous because it leaves wiggle room, which allows them to avoid the potential stress of having to do what they say. The problem with vague promises is that they leave a lot of room for failure and disappointment. So, my coaching to people who are in this step is always to keep the promises simple, clear and rigorous.

  • “Simple” because it is better to commit to fewer actions and really keep them well than to have a list of 20 things — I call it the “should” list, the things we should do — and not follow through with most of them. In fact, I recommend making the fewest promises that make the most difference.
  • “Clear” because different people at times have different views about what certain things mean. And I have seen so many breakdowns in trust that were caused or made worse by people believing everything was clear only to discover through the other person’s actions and behaviors that this was not the case.
  • “Rigorous” because especially when people turn a new page, it is particularly important, in my experience, to manage promises and expectations in a rigorous way. This is a time of heightened sensitivity. It takes many conversations and much effort to give a relationship a new chance but only one screw-up to ruin the progress and take things backward.

Actions and practices could look like:

  • “Let’s agree that every Tuesday, we’ll meet for half an hour to share our key objective of the week, especially the anticipated challenges. Agreed? Great!”
  • “Every time we have a presentation, we’ll first have a one-on-one conversation to ensure we are on the same page and have the same message. Agreed?”
  • “Every time you hear some feedback or some information that could be of use to me, you’ll share it, and I’ll do the same thing. Promise? Good!”
  • “Whenever I do or say something that upsets you, please promise me that you will come straight to me to talk about it. And I promise to listen without getting defensive. Because if I do these things, it’s because I am unaware, not on purpose. OK?”

In Conclusion

Now you are ready to move forward — to change what wasn’t working and to begin building the trust and intimacy necessary to work together well.

To recap, what did we do? We didn’t react to a problem. We didn’t react to an issue. We completed the issue, took it to zero, and then created a new possibility for the future. Rather than reacting to the past, we proactively created the future we want from nothing.

While this might not always be easy to do, the principle and steps are quite simple, and they are based on common sense. Just keep these four last tips in mind throughout your conversations:

First, be authentic. Stay true to your intention. Don’t sell out.

Second, be courageous enough to share your feelings and generous enough to listen as the other shares theirs. Let it in.

Third, stay with it, even if it’s messy or you get lost in the conversation. Go back to your initial intention, and resist the urge to get defensive. Remember, this is about feelings, and whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant.

Lastly, Be smart, not right. I think this is self-explanatory.

If you keep these things in mind and work the four steps, you will be able to transform and/or elevate any challenging, dysfunctional or functional relationship to a new level of trust, partnership and affinity.

I would love to hear your experiences in using this — whether you were successful or not. This will give me an opportunity to provide more support. Please comment on my blog.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 3): Starting From Scratch

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the past two weeks, we have examined the first two steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. The second step is to have an honest, open, rational conversation about the past so that you can complete the past and “zero it out” so you can start over.

This week, we’ll discuss the third step of the conversation: generating a rich, exciting possibility for the future of your relationship.

Envision a New Future

This part of the conversation is about expressing and declaring what you both want — how you want your relationship to play out going forward.

This is not about creating a plan of action or making promises to each other (that’s step four, which we’ll get into next week). At this point, you’re simply expressing what you want the next level of your relationship to look like and what you both hope to create together.

I picked a few words deliberately here. First is “create.” In this step you are creating the new future of your relationship. You can only create something if you start from nothing, or zero. That is why the previous step of completing the past and returning to zero, or nothing, is so critical. If you don’t complete the past and return to zero, whatever you try and create will be on top of incomplete and unresolved baggage — and it will only be a matter of time before something will trigger the baggage again, and the resentment and lack of trust will re-emerge. If you have done the previous step genuinely and effectively, this step will be very exciting, stimulating, liberating and empowering.

The other word that is important is “want.” In this step you are expressing what you want the relationship to look and feel like: what it could be, what you’d like it to be. When people express their desire, there are very few limitations to the conversation and you can literally create whatever both people want.

Build Excitement for the Future

In the last step of the conversation — where you discussed the past — I suggested taking turns and resisting the urge to interrupt or comment on what the other person has to say. This third phase of the conversation is a different type of conversation — it doesn’t have to be so structured. Ideally, you will build upon what each other says by going through a lot of back and forth.

For example, one person might start off by saying, “You know, I would really like our relationship to be open, easy and straightforward. You are so good at bringing people together and getting them to work together, and I am so good at addressing issues and conflict resolution. If we could work together, we could really do some great things. I would love for us to be able to work like this.” Halfway through, the other person will respond by saying, “You know what? I agree with you. I feel exactly the same way. Remember what happened a year ago when we brought these customers together and they were upset about our quality of delivery? I did a great job getting them to the meeting. But you did such a great job of defusing the tensions and getting a dialogue going that led to our best year ever. If we had done it together in all these other situations, can you imagine how great the results might have been? I would love to work with you in this manner, with no tensions and complications …” “Yes, I agree ….”

This conversation will be highly interactive and energizing, and the two of you will get infected and inspired by each other’s expressions of “What if …,” “How about …,” or “Wouldn’t it be great if ….” The energy will spiral upward. Eventually, both of you will be left in a space of: “What do we do with all this great possibility and excitement?” That’s when you know you’ve just completed the third step of the conversation.

Next week, we’ll examine the fourth and last step — where you cement the new possibilities you’ve created for the relationship through concrete practices, actions and new rules of engagement for the future of your relationship.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 2): Zeroing Out the Past

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Last week, I outlined four steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. This week, we’ll examine the second step: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences. This requires an honest, open, rational conversation about the past.

Setting the Stage for Change

Start by setting the time and place for the conversation. Obviously, if possible, do it in person. However, if it’s not possible, don’t delay the conversation. Do it via phone or any other platform, like Skype or FaceTime. If you think you can only achieve breakthroughs when sitting in front of someone, that is not true. I have had many breakthrough conversations via phone, and I have seen others do the same. On the other hand, I have seen too many people avoid and procrastinate the difficult conversation because they felt they couldn’t do it in person. My experience is that most of the time it’s better to have the conversation not in person than not having it at all.

The purpose of this second step is to fully understand each other’s reality, experiences, perceptions and feelings regarding the history of the relationship.

It’s best to take turns. One person communicates while the other person listens, and then you switch sides. Do not interrupt each other unless something is unclear and you need clarification. There should be no pushback or arguments because you are sharing feelings, perceptions and experiences, not facts and truths.

For example: In one of my sessions, person A and B were having a conversation to generate a breakthrough after a falling-out that occurred a year earlier, which caused them to stop trusting each other and collaborating. Person A was expressing his feelings to person B, and he said, “I was really offended by your comment in the meeting we had last year. I felt dismissed, disrespected and demeaned.” That evening over dinner, when I was asking people how their conversations went, person B said to me: “It went well, but I still disagree with how person A took my comments in the meeting a year ago. My words were not offensive, dismissive or disrespectful…” It took me a while to make him see that whether he agreed or disagreed with person A’s feelings was irrelevant and that the real opportunity in the conversation was to fully stand in person A’s world, get how he has been feeling, and get that how he has been feeling is in fact valid. Person B’s reaction is common. That is why I always advise people who are pursuing breakthrough conversations of this type to truly listen, without judgment or defensiveness, and genuinely seek to understand. This way, they are not pointing fingers, assigning blame. Instead, they are sharing their reality. It’s not about who is right or wrong. Instead, it’s about understanding each other so you can move forward.

State Your Feelings, Not the Facts

Sometimes in order to complete the past people have to discuss the events that took place in the relationship. This is often a more challenging topic as most people, especially when they have baggage and emotions, don’t do a good job distinguishing between the facts and their interpretations or feelings that followed what happened. In addition, many times people simply remember things differently, but everyone is convinced their version is the truth. And when people are at odds with each other, they tend to feel that the other person is maliciously lying about the situation.

But when people really want to have a breakthrough, it is easier for them to realize that often it is less important to agree on the facts. Sometimes what is equally or even more important is to understand and accept how the other person experienced what happened.

For instance, someone might be upset with another person because they are always late to appointments. They may say, “You are always late. You don’t respect my time, or me for that matter.” The other person may say, “That’s not true. I was only late six out of the last ten times. You are exaggerating.” I often coach people on this. It doesn’t matter if it was 10/10 or 6/10. It still left the other person feeling disrespected. In order to have a breakthrough, you need to understand and accept how your being late — whether six or ten times — affected the other person.

When people can accept the validity of each other’s reality — the feelings, not the facts — that’s when the magic begins.

Here are some angles you could use to share your reality with the other person:

  • “My experience and feelings about you and our relationship has been …”
  • “I’ve always felt your view about me and the relationship is … and that has made me feel …”
  • “I started to feel this way when …” (share the event that triggered it, if you recall)
  • “When this happened, I felt …”
  • “Ever since, it has affected me in the following ways …”
  • “It has prevented me from doing the following things …”
  • “It has cost both of us the following tolls …”

Listen Generously

The only way this conversation will work is if you are both willing to close your mouths while the other person is speaking, so that you can open your ears and open your heart.

When each speaker finishes talking, the listener should say “thank you.” You are expressing your gratitude for the other person’s honesty, courage and willingness to share his/her feelings.

By approaching the conversation with gratitude, you are more likely to listen, rather than simply wait for your turn to talk. For instance, I’ve noticed that when people raise their hands to speak in meetings, they tend to shut their ears. Even if during the time their hand is raised their issue is addressed or resolved, they don’t hear it because they’re in waiting-for-my-turn mode.

The words “thank you” tend to open people’s hearts so they can let the other person’s truth in, acknowledge it, own it and live in peace with it. Expressing gratitude is also a generous way to acknowledge the other person’s courage and commitment — and the validity of his/her feelings. This in turn encourages more sharing and communicating.

Get to Zero

After both people have spoken, and if you’ve both genuinely shared and listened without getting defensive, what you will be left with is a sense of emptiness, “nothing” — a clean slate — and the question “So, now what?”

Only when you get to this place, when there’s no fight left, can you zero out the past. What will naturally follow is a new sense of possibility, hope and excitement for the future of your relationship.

So, what do you do from here? How do you build something new from “nothing”? Stay tuned for my next blog.

Courageous Living: When Ignorance Is Not Bliss

This is the final blog in my three-week series on blissful ignorance and awareness. Over the last two weeks, I have discussed the ways in which ignorance of certain information can be both empowering and disempowering (Is Ignorance Bliss? & Blissfully Ignorant or Blissfully Aware?). This week, I will discuss the areas of our life in which we definitely want to be aware—and how to ensure we stay awake and aware in these important areas.

While there’s a lot we don’t need to know in order to be happy, even information that we are better off not knowing, there are a few areas of our lives in which awareness always trumps ignorance. These are the fundamental aspects of our lives—the people and things that are most important to us and that can either make or break our bliss. For many of us, these may include, but are not limited to, our:

  • Health
  • Finances
  • Career
  • Marriage
  • Family

There may be other areas of our life that also belong on the list—perhaps our close friends, a philanthropic cause, or some other endeavor that gives our life purpose and that is included in our vision of a happy, successful life.

For each of these areas, there are certain questions we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis:

  1. According to my definition of success and happiness, what is my vision for how this area of my life would look if it was working perfectly for me?In other words, what’s my desired end state? In order to know if we’re on track to achieve our vision of a blissful life, we need to know what we are working toward—an end state with which to compare the actual state of things. If our marriage was working exactly as we wanted it, what would that look like? If we had exactly the career we wanted, what would we be doing right now or working toward? How would we be feeling every day at work? If our finances were completely on track with our vision for our family’s future, what would our financial situation look like?
  2. Am I blissfully aware in this area of my life? Or am I blissfully ignorant, thinking if there doesn’t seem to be a problem, then everything is OK?Awareness is an active state of mind where we gather and consider all the necessary information so that we know what is working well and what isn’t. So when it comes to our health, we are having regular checkups and taking preventative measures against potential health problems based on our age, personal history, and family history. We are having regular conversations with our accountant or money manager so that we have all the facts about our financial well-being. We are paying attention to our spouse and having conversations about the state of our relationship, rather than just assuming he/she is happy because we are not arguing or fighting. The same goes for our children. Just because they’re not complaining doesn’t mean they feel an intimate connection with us. If we are blissfully aware, we are actively seeking out areas of our life in which we may be ignorant. This is never about perfection, and we can never be sure to have the ultimate awareness in every area. But, when we take the life commitment to be aware, stay aware, and even grow our awareness in all the areas that are most important to us, the commitment itself and the living of it is very empowering. For many it becomes life changing.
  3. What’s the current shape of this area of my life?If we are truly aware, rather than unintentionally ignorant, we have the information we need to accurately evaluate each area of our life and how it compares to our vision, or ideal, we want to achieve. Once we know what is and isn’t working well, we can start to take action. What could be improved? What could I do differently? What steps should I be taking in order to be happy and on track for achieving my vision?

Most people don’t think this way. They don’t have this kind of orientation or these kinds of practices. Instead, they just react to things in life. They don’t regularly ask themselves these questions, often because they don’t want to know. It’s easier to just go with the flow than to have tough conversations with our spouses and our children, or to be honest with ourselves about the challenging steps we need to take in order to have the careers we want.

Being aware ultimately leads to the happy lives we envision for ourselves, but it doesn’t always feel so blissful in the moment. It takes courageous thinking to be honest with ourselves about what we really want. It takes courage to own up to the way it’s going. And it takes courageous living to make it happen.

Space of Possibility

Over the last few weeks, I have written much about the differences between Warriors and Worriers, positioning them as distinct opposites. But the truth is that Warriors do occasionally worry. And Worriers sometimes act courageously. From time to time, we step over that line to the other side, but we all live mostly on one side or the other.

The difference between the space where Warriors live and the space where Worriers is possibility.

Worriers are bound by past limitations. They tend to believe that their future prospects are constrained by past events and predicaments. They often allow themselves to remain stuck in the past, because it’s more familiar and safer that way. Doing what they’ve always done requires no vulnerability, no courage, and little to no exposure or risk. Worriers live in the space of “limited or no possibility.”

Warriors, however, live in a place of possibility. They honor the past and learn from it, but they continue to look towards the future and think about what could be, what they want, and what they are committed to achieving. And they take ownership for making it happen. This is a much more empowering, free, and courageous way of thinking.

People always vacillate between these two spaces. We choose the side where we’ll live, but we occasionally blip into the other side. When Worriers blip into the space of possibility, they often respond with sarcasm, defensiveness, and cynicism. I often see this in organizations. When change initiatives are launched, Worriers are typically the first to criticize, find the flaws, and say “This, too, shall pass.”

When Warriors blip to the other side, they typically experience mental and even physical pain. They feel like they have not been true to themselves, so they get back to their rightful side as quickly as possible.

Here’s an example: One of my clients, who typically is a very bold and courageous leader, recently called me because he was quite upset about the way he conducted himself in an important meeting the day before. Apparently, he promised to backup one of his colleagues in a critical presentation to the board for a new idea. Their department was seeking to get investment for its implementation. The meeting didn’t go well, and when it was his opportunity to speak up he held back and didn’t live up to his promise. He was devastated with his own behavior. In fact he shared with me that he couldn’t sleep that entire night. After our brief conversation he picked up the phone and called his colleague. He took responsibility for his lack of courage and support, apologized to his colleague and received forgiveness. He called me again later that day feeling completely restored, freed up and energized.

When Warriors screw up, act harshly, offend someone or act in any way that is inconsistent with they commitment, they are much more inclined to pick up the phone to that person, apologize and patch things up. This is the way they return back to their rightful side when they blip for the Warrior into the Worrier space.

We all vacillate from one side to the other. The question is: Where do you live? Where’s home? And if home is in the Worrier space, are you perhaps ready to move?