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Taking a stand ALWAYS requires courage

No matter how committed we are to living courageously, and how experienced we are at taking a stand for the future and living accordingly, it doesn’t seem to get easier or less scary with time.

I have been a student and teacher of these concepts and conversations for more than 30 years. I practice them in my own personal and professional life, and I teach and coach others to do the same. Still, with all my experience, every time I need to take a stand in my life, I find myself confronting my own fears, doubts and skepticisms.

It takes openness, faith, trust and courage to live consistently with your stand and commitment.

Openness to the idea that our internal mindset and commitment really do affect, impact and shape our external world and circumstances.

Most people don’t reach this level of enlightenment. They are too skeptical, pragmatic or close-minded to even consider or accept the notion that there is more to life than what they can physically see. Whether it is Religion, Astrology, or the Law of Attraction, I often hear smart and successful people reject these by saying things like, “I don’t believe in that Voodoo, BS or Nonsense stuff…”

Faith and trust in your own ability to take your life to a new level, starting with a bold stand. Also, have faith and trust that the universe will reciprocate consistently with your commitment and energy.

Even when people believe in the Law of Attraction notion, many don’t believe that it could work for them – that their life could ever be as blissful as they truly desire. So, they maintain a conceptual, theoretical and academic mindset about these transformational topics. I often hear people give others ‘taking the next level’ advice when they themselves avoid doing the same, even though they desperately want and need to.

Courage to take a stand for what you want and bet your future on that stand – even when your current circumstances are quite different from your desired state, and people around you may judge you for being naïve and unrealistic.

Most people, despite what they may say to the contrary, are too comfortable in their personal and professional status quo. They may talk about change, but most don’t get up and do something about it, even when their circumstances are challenging, unfulfilling and dissatisfying. They are too afraid to take a stand and ‘go for it’ for risk of failing, disappointing themselves or others, or simply appearing naive or not credible in the eyes of people around them who they respect and like.

There is a big difference between “wanting to change” and actually “changing.” Most of us are much better at the first.

We are creatures of habit. We like continuity, stability, familiarity, and predictability. We need it to feel confident and safe. We fear change and the unknown.

Taking a stand for a better future brings about change, unknown and unpredictable directions, and dynamics. This is counter-intuitive to our ‘keep things the same’ orientation. It disrupts our order and fundamentally scares us.

That is why taking a stand will ALWAYS require courage.

Photo by: The U.S. Army

 

Life is Too Short to Compromise

My wife and I try to live life according to the mantra: “life is too short to compromise.”

There are multiple phrases you could put at the end of the phrase: “Life is too short to….”Wait for what you want, …Hold back, …Spend time with people who drain your energy rather than give you energy, or …Not express your love to the people you care about.

However, how often do we actually stop to reflect if we are living our life accordingly?

Living without compromising on the important things is a powerful and courageous way to live.

How many times have you compromised on personal and/or professional relationships that mattered to you, or sold out on doing things to the standards of quality and excellence that you believe in?

I have taken a commitment to not compromise on the things that are important to me. And, the older (and wiser!) I get, the easier it becomes to live this way.

However, being human, I have slipped on occasion when it comes to living consistently with my principles and values. However, because I am so passionate about living authentically, I have developed antennas that detect my missteps and help me to quickly catch myself and adjust my course.

All of us, including you, have the same antennas. We just have to “activate” them.

What are our antennas? Frustration, irritation and suffering. Whenever I compromise or sell out on my principles and values, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated and irritable, even about mundane things. When I recognize these emotions, I ask myself “what is going on?” and I’m always able to get to the bottom of it. These feelings, especially if they persist, lead to insights about areas where I have compromised.

How do you activate your antennas? By taking a stand. I know it sounds too simple, but it really works. When you take a stand, you commit to living consistently with your principles without compromising. This sets the bar. As a result, you become hypersensitive to any area around you– including your own behavior– that contradicts your stand.

If you don’t take a stand, you are less likely to detect these guiding feelings. As a result, you can miss the opportunity to shift gears and take corrective action.

I have learned that if I remain true to my values, even in the face of challenges, I always feel good. However, if I compromise my values, even if the circumstances around me are great, I don’t feel satisfied.

The good news is that we always have control over how we live. In what area of your life do you need to stop compromising?

Photo by: Shashank Mhasawade

You can promise the uncertain

You can promise the uncertain

Can you promise an outcome that you don’t know how to fulfill or that you don’t own and control all the aspects that are needed in order to fulfill it?

My answer is yes! In fact, I think in many cases, these type of promises are the ones most worth making because they often reflect our aspirational dreams and game changers.

When Kennedy promised that the USA would put a man on the moon and get him back safely by the end of the century, NASA didn’t exist. In fact, all of the key technologies and materials needed to achieve Kennedy’s lofty vision didn’t exist. But, by making the promise, Kennedy ushered in a new era of dialogue and collaboration among the different space related agencies to achieve this “impossible” goal. Kennedy’s declaration stimulated a new level of innovation, which eventually positioned the USA as the leader in space exploration. This endeavor also contributed to numerous technological advancements in other fields.

Kennedy’s declaration is a very famous example of making a promise without knowing exactly how to fulfill it. But, if you think about it, we all do this all the time.

For example: every time a man and woman say “I do” and commit to spending the rest of their lives together in love and harmony, they are in essence promising something they don’t fully know how to fulfill.

In organizations when clients request or expect higher quality, lower cost and faster delivery, people rise to the occasion and go out of their way to figure out how to provide this out of the ordinary outcome.

We all make ambitious and uncertain promises that we don’t know how to keep all the time, so why are we so afraid and reluctant to proactively do so?

It is because as human beings we are fundamentally rooted in the past. We behave as if the past is the only indicator of what is possible or impossible in the future. I find that most of us live this way for the majority of the time.

That’s why people often say things like “this project is going to be really hard,” “It’s going to take me a long time to gain their trust,” and “we can’t double the numbers in one year.”

We have all witnessed that the things that seem most certain often don’t turn out that way. And, what seems most unlikely often does happen. Rationally, this means that what we may consider possible/likely or impossible/unlikely are not facts at all.

Nevertheless, even though our reality has been shaken by themany times, the past seems to still have a firm grip on our view. This is what makes us uncomfortable to make promises about what we don’t know how to fulfill.

There is a different paradigm of thinking available to us that is rooted in the future. There are many variations on this way of thinking, but all of them represent the idea that our actions and behaviors are more driven by the future we are anticipating, than by our past.

If we commit to an aspirational future state that is desirable and believable, even if we don’t know how to achieve it just yet, we will invest our hearts and souls in pursuing it and figuring out how to fulfill it.

I am reminded of something I learned early on in my career from one of my mentors that has repeatedly proven to be true: “if you do the right thing for long enough, you will always get the outcome you desire.” Unfortunately, I see too many people failing to achieve their dreams more because of lack of trying (or giving up too quickly) then because of giving it their all and falling short.

The distinction believable is very important here. It’s the bridge between the past and the future. If what we promise is not believable, it will live as a pipedream and we won’t pursue it. If it is too believable – i.e., predictable—it won’t be inspiring even if we do pursue it. Believable, predicable and pipedream are not facts. They are paradigms that we can choose to adopt in order to transform our minds.

And, of course courage is a key component.

As per one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

So, if you want to take your personal or professional life to the next level, promise something bold and inspiring that is desirable and believable and go for it. It may not go the way you think it should. But, if you stay with it you may be surprised by what you accomplish.

And, as I always tell people at the end “Even when you are doing all the right things leave a bit of room for miracles and luck.”

You can have it all if you are willing to do what it takes

Someone wise once told me that there are two things that make people upset: one is that they don’t get what they want, and the other is when they do get what they want.

The first reason always made complete sense to me. I could understand from my own life experience how failing to achieve a goal or expectation could lead to upset. In fact, I have experienced a few of these in my lifetime.

But, the second scenario of being upset due to getting what we want initially seemed a bit more counterintuitive. It’s not that I didn’t or don’t understand the logic. I do. In fact, the more I have had the fortune to achieve success and growth, the more I have experienced the pains of growth, change and disruption.

If I look at some of the recent breakthroughs in my life, there were moments where I experienced them as upsets. For example: “I wanted to grow and elevate my business. Now I have more and bigger engagements. But, now I feel overwhelmed because I have too much work…” “I wanted to build a powerful social media platform, so I started writing and publishing every week. Now I am getting invited to write even more and I don’t have enough time to do it….” I guess that is why they say, “be careful what you wish for.”

I am very ambitious in my life. I want to achieve great things in all aspects of my life. I want to be wealthy, successful in my field, have an extraordinary marriage and family life, and be very healthy and fit. I am committed to having it all. In fact, I believe everyone has the ability to have this kind of life if they want.

But, what I am learning is that living a life oriented around having it all comes with tolls in the form of focus and intentionality, as well as being unreasonable, working hard and doing what it takes. It’s a very empowering price to pay for those who want this type of life. But, it is not for everyone.

For those of you who are on this same path or who want to get on this path, I want to lay out a few personal thoughts and discoveries about what is needed to achieve these ambitions.

Planning – I am finding that in order to make everything work, I have to plan my life in a much more deliberate, rigorous and sometime non-conventional manner. Often this includes setting a detailed schedule that includes specific times for when I’ll wake up, eat, exercise, spend time with my family members and go to sleep. This lifestyle is not for those who like to “go with the flow” or “be spontaneous.” People think that rigorous planning precludes spontaneity. It doesn’t. In fact, it can enhance it. When I am spending time with my wife, family members or clients, I can be fully present and engaged without worrying about things I am not doing or should be doing. Planning gives me freedom.

Team – You can’t have it all alone. You need your loved ones and professional team members on board with you. First, if you don’t they’ll likely get resentful and upset at some point when you reach the inevitable areas of turbulence and your plans are not working smoothly. This will slow or hinder your ability to have it all. Second, you need their genuine alignment, enthusiasm and collaboration to be a part of creating and living the great life you are building with and for them. Otherwise what’s the point? Thirdly, there are people in our environment who have skills that are mission critical for our well-being, happiness and success. We want to make sure they are fully engaged with us in our vision and values.

Innovation – Every time I hit a wall or obstacle, typically its something like – “I have too much work and I don’t have enough time or wherewithal to do everything” – my first reaction is suffering and upset. Then I remind myself… or to be honest often my wife reminds me…that “life is good” and the problem I am experiencing is a function of success not failure. Then I quickly start thinking about “given my vision to have it all, what new practices or structures do I need to put in place to enable me to fulfill everything I am up to?” For example: I have been traveling quite intensely in the last year so I have instituted a practice of taking my young daughter to lunch once or twice every week to have personal father-daughter time. Also, I go out with my older son every weekend for coffee for a couple of hours for father-son time. Even though these activities are planned, they are so enjoyable and all of us look forward to these every week.

Courage, as well as a positive and optimistic outlook – As you can imagine, the journey of an ambitious life isn’t always smooth and things don’t always go according to plan. In fact, sometimes it seems like things are not on track or nothing is working at all. But, I have noticed that the more I stay unconditionally focused on my vision and do my best at all times, things seem to always fall into place. It is one of these mysteries that I have learned to trust and depend on. It requires stamina for a marathon, not a sprint. And this way of living requires having faith and trusting myself, my vision and the universe (call it God if you want) to be on my side, give me luck and help me fulfill my dreams. All this requires courage to stay the course and not sell out on the important things, no matter what. I listen to my internal commitment versus the external circumstances and always look at things from a positive and optimistic point of view—especially when the immediate evidence seems otherwise.

Do you know how to receive a compliment?

Do you know how to receive a compliment and praise, or do you typically tend to dismiss, deflect or reduce what is being said?

I was having dinner with a long time client and friend for whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect. At some point in the evening, I expressed my heartfelt appreciation, gratitude and acknowledgement for the great person sitting in front of me including everything they have achieved in the previous months. My client listened quietly and then respectfully and graciously said something to the tune of: “Thank you so much for your kind words BUT I don’t deserve the praise and what I did wasn’t really that special.” I really love this person and I know him very well so I didn’t get offended at all. However, I did feel ripped off by his polite and well-intended rejection of my praise.

So, I decided to write a blog about this topic…

When YOU get acknowledged or thanked, do you fully let it in, or do you say things like: “You shouldn’t have”, “I don’t deserve this” or “ It wasn’t really all the great”? If you don’t fully let it in, you are letting yourself and the person giving you the compliment down.

It takes courage and generosity for someone to praise or give a compliment to another. Giving a compliment is in essence a personal gift. So, when the giver doesn’t experience their gift being accepted he also feels his generosity and courage have been ignored, dismissed, discarded and/or invalided. That is not a great feeling.

At the same time, by not fully accepting the compliment or praise, and fully letting it in, the receiver is missing the opportunity to feel empowered, uplifted and inspired by another. If someone tells you how beautiful, talented, powerful and/or special you are and you accepted their view – especially if their view is greater than your own – it will empower you.

So, why is it so hard for people to simply open their ears and heart to compliments and acknowledgements and let them in?

I have written about this in a previous blog “How great are you willing to be?” In essence, if people accept themselves as powerful, great, and magnificent they are admitting that they can create, achieve and have so much more, and that thought could be daunting. So, we tend to avoid anything that could lead to that feeling; like compliments and praise.

So, next time someone gives you a compliment or acknowledgement – try to just listen openly and generously, don’t say anything just let it in. And, at the end just say: Thank you!

Fifty-five is a notable age.

This week I turned 55. I don’t know how 55 should feel or look. But, I don’t feel 55 and people tell me that I don’t look or behave it.

I am sure we’ve all heard the saying “the fifties is the new thirties.” Statistics support this view too. In fact, I recently saw a statistic that in modern countries such as the USA and Canada, the average expectancy of a man has increased in the 20th century from 46 to 74 and women from 48 to 80.

But statistics is one thing and how we feel, look and behave is another. Fifty-five is a notable age. It’s the middle of my life, or as my wife says: “at 50 we have earned the right to stop worrying about what other people think about us or what we should do, and only care about what we feel is right for us to be and do.”

So, 55 is a great opportunity to take stock of where I am in my life journey – what I feel great about, what I don’t, and most important what I want the next 10 years and rest of my life to look like.

I will always have ambitions, aspirations and goals. There are more things I still want to accomplish and get done, more wealth to build and more difference to make. Having said that, my biggest wish is to get up every day for the rest of my life feeling fully satisfied, blessed and validated by who I am and what I have accomplished thus far. I want to feel that I am pursuing my aspirations and goals as an expression of success and abundance, rather than scarcity and deficit.

Many years ago a friend caught me by surprise when he asked me the question: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” And that question has stayed with me ever since.

My answer is: I am young enough to fully express myself every day in everything I do, to fully love the people that are dearest to me with all my heart, to pursue my wildest dreams without doubt or compromise, and to live every day of my life with the optimism, hope and excitement that “the best is yet to come.” It is scary at times to live full out, but I can’t imagine any other way to do it.

How old would YOU be if you didn’t know how old YOU are?     

Is your Leadership Team making a positive or negative difference?

Any organization is a reflection of its leaders and leadership team (LT). If the leaders build a strong and genuine team dynamic of trust, unity, communication and ownership among themselves, these characteristics will be cascaded through the veins of the organization and internalized in its culture and DNA. If the leaders operate as individual silos, not a team, their people will follow suit. And, if they have trust issues among themselves, harbor resentments or are the source of negativity or victim behaviors, the same issues, sentiments and behaviors will be inculcated throughout their organization.

And, it doesn’t matter what leaders say in public. Even if it’s all the politically correct things, their people will watch their behaviors, pick up on subtle remarks and body language, and line up accordingly.

The LT is always an amplifier of sentiments, conversations and energy in the organization. Leaders’ behavior either amplifies the constructive, productive conversations that make a difference, or it amplifies and fuels the negative ones, which undermine and weaken; they are either the source of the solution or a big part of the problem.

Unfortunately, in so many cases the senior leaders amplify the negative sentiments and conversations. They initiate, express and participate in negative conversations, and they pass down negative and divisive messages to their people. I have heard managers and employees complain about this so many times, and I have seen this dynamic with my own eyes.

For example, I was working inside a large telecom company who acquired a smaller, more entrepreneurial, startup type company. As with most mergers and acquisitions the integration was done on paper but not in the hearts and minds of the people who had to implement it, especially not the people who joined the larger telecom firm from the smaller acquired company. As I walked the halls of the acquired company’s offices and sat in their meetings I could hear the resentments and negative and toxic feelings about the acquirer voiced in almost every conversation. Many of the complaints were legitimate and correct. However, given the negative environment, no one was collaborating to figure out how to fix the issues. And, even the senior leaders from the acquired company who agreed to, and gained from the acquisition, and now sat on the LT of the acquirer were expressing, engaging in, and fueling the negative and unproductive sentiments, behind the scenes.

Even when the LT members are not the originators of negative sentiments and conversations, they have the power to transform these into constructive conversations that address the issues, change things and make a difference. But, in many cases they avoid their responsibility and opportunity to do so. I guess cynicism is easier and more familiar, even if it is undermining and dysfunctional.

It seems that leaders often just don’t realize the positive or negative impact of their behaviors and conversations on their environment. They don’t focus on this topic hence they don’t see it, or take responsibility for its consequences.

If LT members periodically answered the question “Are we making a positive, neutral or negative impact through our behavior?” and perhaps also asked people around them for honest feedback on this, they would be more inclined to adjust their behaviors and conversations, especially if they realized that the cost associated with negative or neutral is dear.

It takes courage to say NO to cynicism, resignation and suffering!

I was speaking to one of my clients a while back and in our conversation as he was talking about his work he described it as: “My job is my 8 hour inconvenience”.

At first I laughed because I wasn’t sure if he meant it seriously or as a joke. It seemed a bit blunt, harsh and sarcastic.

But, then as I reflected more on his sentiment, as well as my thirty-plus years experience working with people in organizations all around the world, I could think of so many examples of people who, even though may never say a statement like that, share similar sentiments.

So many people seem to feel powerless in their job on a daily basis. They feel they can’t really make the difference they can and want to make. And, they feel that the internal silos, bureaucracy and politics hinder their ability to do the right thing for their organization and change or affect the things that are not working around them.

When people stop believing that things can change or they can make the difference they tend to get discouraged and resigned. And, more critical, they stop pursuing certain opportunities and challenges. Instead, they resign themselves to the status quo, and as a result they stop bringing their passion, heart, innovation and ideas to the game. They start going through the motions in many things they do. When they encounter broken or dysfunctional dynamics they stay away from these; they ‘pick their battles’ and overall they orient themselves more around surviving then thriving. “Unfortunately,” most professionals are professional and competent enough in their job to be able to do a good enough job even in this state. So, over time this becomes the norm in most organizations, including the most successful ones.

However, keeping up with this “normal” level of existence comes with a price – it requires a certain degree of “numbness”, apathy and resignation. It’s like living with a physical pain and constantly taking painkillers to tolerate it. As we all know painkillers have side effects. And, in our case the pain is feeling I can’t make a difference, the painkillers are becoming resigned and numb, and the side effects are selling out, sometimes giving up and almost always not fully expressing our selves. For the organization the biggest side effect is not getting the best out of its people.

But, the moral of this story is not all bad. Even though I do see too many people at all levels of so many organizations that fit the bill I have described above, I also meet many really brave, committed and powerful leaders, managers and employees in all organizations. People who have taken a bold stand and not buying into the cynicism, resignation, negativism and suffering that surround them. People who have made a decision to always fully express themselves and communicate authentically and effectively at all times. People who will never become victims and always stay true to themselves by making a difference in everything they do.

For me these people are the true heroes of organizations, because it takes a lot of courage to say NO to cynicism, resignation and suffering, and ALWAYS stand for optimism, possibilities and our ability to make a difference.

Photo by: sboneham

Do less. You’ll be able to achieve more!

In my line of work I attend many business meetings, and many of them look like this: people sit around the table with their laptops or iPads open. There are relatively brief moments where everyone is deeply present, listening, paying attention and engaged in the conversation. Most of the time people are sporadically engaged but mostly working on their computers, iPads or smartphones responding to emails and focusing on other work related things.

Most people who work in organizations seem to feel that they have to attend too many meetings and that many, perhaps most of these meetings are too long and not productive. In fact, many times people say that most meetings are a waste of time.

Why is this the case?

I often ask my clients why their meetings are not productive. Many people attribute this to the fact that “people are not engaged and invested in the conversation because they are too distracted by other multi tasking activities.” Many also say that the reason they continue to do emails and work during the meeting is because “the meeting isn’t that productive or relevant to them.” This sounds like a vicious circle and self-perpetuating predicament.

In many cases people also say that “their manager is the biggest offender of doing emails and other work while in meetings, so this sets the mode and standard for less effective meetings.” When I have further asked why people don’t simply close their computers and devices in meetings in order to fully concentrate on the discussions at hand, many said that the reason is “with all the resource constraints they now have to do the work of two people”.

In today’s economy, the challenge of doing more with less is definitely more prevalent in corporations than ever. However, the strategy of “multi-tasking” as a solution is simply the wrong answer.

All this is true in our personal lives too: Have you ever noticed that when a friend or a family member is concentrating on a mobile device or computer while in a conversation with you, these conversations become intermittent, repetitive, unfocused and unproductive?

Our three kids (14, 21 and 25) act like it is normal to text, tweet, instagram and social network while talking to us, their friends, and others. This is the norm today among kids, teenagers and young adults. But, I recently read an article that indicated that the kids of today retain and remember less information because they rely so heavily on the internet. What is clear is that the more parallel demands we place on our brain and focus, the less productive we are, the more stressed we are, and the longer it takes to do the work.

Even though we’ve learned to accept this reality, at time it still causes inter-generational tension because its simply unacceptable for my wife and I to communicate and connect this way. In fact, on a recent carpool trip, it was amusing to see my youngest daughter with her three girlfriends, sitting side by side and texting each other rather than speaking.

At first we tried to impose clear rules around the use of phones and other devices, to make sure our kids balance their social networking with being present at family time and homework; otherwise they would never take their eyes off their phones. We had partial success. But, we didn’t give up. We all pledged to close our phones in all family dinners and social events. This has already made a difference in the quality of our quality time together as a family.

Please don’t understand me wrong, I have nothing against these marvelous devices– in fact, I own many of them, and love using them. But what today’s kids, teenagers, and business managers often fail to see is the cost of their multitasking on the entire spectrum of things that matter to them, from productivity in school and work, to intimacy with family and friends.

If you want to achieve greater, more complex and extraordinary things with higher quality, slow down and focus: you’ll get there much faster.

And as a bonus, you’ll be a happier, healthier person. That’s something you and your family can enjoy, at your leisure.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out!

How many times have you seen the following scenario?

A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s future. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time: they actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People have stayed within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

This happens because leaders lack one or more of the following attributes: courage, an understanding of their role as leader, and the ability to powerfully manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out. Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 per cent alignment behind a goal that is 80 per cent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 per cent behind one point of view and others are zero. How motivated are those zero per cent people to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so.”

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.

If an entire team is behind one direction – even if it is only 80 per cent correct – if they truly align, commit to a direction, and backstop each other, it is astounding what can happen. Individuals are then free to stake out a much more powerful future – and in my experience, they almost always do.

What has been your experience? 

Choosing when you think you don’t have a choice…

My wife and I recently learned from a dear friend that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We were shocked and saddened at first by his revelation. But, he expressed such a positive, optimistic and confident, attitude and message about how he will ‘rise above the disease and use his new predicament to become a better person and make a difference around him’ that I was blown away and inspired by his extraordinary spirit and courage.

This got me thinking – in life we often need to choose between things – between this job and that job, between this partner and that partner, between this field or that field. And, at times, depending on the situation and what is at stake, these choices can be hard to make. But, at least we have options to choose from that seem to be in our control.

But what about choice in situations where certain circumstances are laid upon us? What about choice when your wife or husband just left you, you were just fired from your job, you are financially broke, your doctor tells you about a bad medical diagnosis… What choice do we have in these situations?

We don’t always have a choice about our circumstances. However, we ALWAYS have a choice about our attitude and mindset, how we’ll respond and what we will make of them. We choose whether to relate to a ‘bad’ situation as a ‘problem’ OR ‘opportunity’; whether to accept, embrace and own it – I call that “choosing”, OR to become a victim of the situation.  And, that choice gives us tremendous power.

There are so many heroic and inspirational stories about cancer survivors who took their illness as an opportunity to transform their life. Examples of people who turned a bad divorce into a new and much better life, and people who continued to have a positive outlook on life after going through the tragedy of losing loved ones.

I was recently working with a company that was laying off employees. So, I had multiple opportunities to meet these people, many of which worked in that company for many years and were surprised by their misfortune. For some of the people, being let go landed as a heavy blow. They took it personally and found it very hard to see the silver lining in the event. Others, who weren’t any better off financially and who loved the company and their jobs as much as their colleagues took this turn of events as an opportunity. Some were excited about starting their own business. Others were looking forward to finally getting the promotion or title they wanted, in another company. And, for others it was about finding a job closer to home in order to avoid the long commute each day, or travel less in order to be able to spend more time with their family.

The people who continued to feel victimized by the situation struggled with seeing how being fired could present them with a better path in their life. The people who accepted, embraced and owned their circumstance found multiple reasons for why being fired was a blessing in disguise.

By understanding that we always have a choice and doing our best to view all challenges as opportunities, we can get beyond what should and could have been, and focus on creating a better life for ourselves.

What challenges and predicaments have you turned into opportunities?  How did you choose to stay optimistic instead of discouraged?

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?