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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.

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.

Blissfully Ignorant or Blissfully Aware?

Is ignorance really the key to bliss? Is it awareness? Or is it, perhaps, a combination of the two?

In last week’s blog, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of being aware or ignorant about certain information and why it’s important to deliberately manage a balance between the two. But how do you know when knowledge is power and when it can be disempowering?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether you really want to know more:

Is this information true?

Benjamin Franklin once said,

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

Before taking action on information, think about it for yourself. Do some research. Gather more information before forming your own opinion. It may not always be possible to be certain whether a piece of information is true, but an equally important question is whether or not it is true to you—to what you think, who you are, and what you’re about.

Is this information empowering?

Some information simply has little to no positive value in our lives. Some knowledge can be depressing (often because there’s simply nothing we can do to change it), disempowering, and even dangerous. For instance, consider the images we see of models and celebrities, with their perfect bodies and faces. We start to wonder why we don’t look like that. The truth is that they don’t look like that either. Without strategic lighting and Photoshop, most of them look more like us than their pictures. And so we have this culture where people starve themselves to lose weight, teenagers get breast implants, and people literally get addicted to plastic surgery—all in pursuit of an unattainable standard of beauty.

Remaining ignorant of these undermining, disempowering conversations and similar information could certainly be blissful—and even beneficial. When we’re not inundated with other people’s ideas, standards, and values, we can start thinking more clearly for ourselves. We can take a stand for who we are and what we value.

Is this information useful?

It’s important to be aware of information that is useful to you—not just what makes you feel good but what you need to know in order to achieve your vision for your career, life, or even your family.

When my oldest daughter (who is now twenty-four) was preparing to enter high school, my wife and I started to think about what we believed was best for her. We had conversations among our social networks (mostly upper-middle-class people like us). Like many parents, we wanted a certain kind of success for our daughter. So we convinced ourselves and her that she should go to this highly-academic private school, where they raved about their statistics for how many students ended up in the more prestigious, high-earning professions like medicine and law.

My daughter suffered the whole year. It wasn’t the right place for her. Regretfully, it took us a few months to wake up and realize we were totally hypnotized by standards that had nothing to do with what was best for her. We, like many people, were in this rat race of standards and keeping up with the Joneses. And we hadn’t realized that before. We just thought we were looking out for her best interests. So we took her out of the school and placed her in a local school where she blossomed and did very well. I still see many people in our social circles that are still caught up in the same predicament.

Success, achievement, and happiness are concepts we should define for ourselves—based on our values, our visions of our lives, and what we truly want. It takes awareness to get off the bandwagon of keeping up with the Joneses. It also takes courage—to stand up for what you believe and to think for yourself. It’s much easier to just go with the flow. But when it comes to important, life-defining decisions, ignorance is not bliss. It’s a curse.

In next week’s blog, I’ll discuss the areas of our life and work where we definitely want to be aware—and the questions to ask ourselves to ensure we aren’t operating in unintentional ignorance.

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?

When It Comes To Failure, Choose Your Point Of View

Life is a conversation. Things happen, and we have interpretations about them. That’s the way it works.

For example, two people going through the same challenging circumstance or event can have completely different takes on the situation. One might be very upset and have the following reaction to a particular “failure”:

  • That was horrible.
  • I told you so.
  • We shouldn’t have done that.

However, another person, when faced with the same situation, might just smile and say:

  • That could have been worse!
  • That was tough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • We stayed in this together and became closer because of it.

Both reactions – negative and positive – are valid, but they have different outcomes and consequences. One is empowering; the other is disempowering.

As part of my business, I coach, guide and support people. Some people never seem to be happy or satisfied, even when good things happen to them. They always see the “half empty” part of the glass. They just won’t count their blessings. Others are always oriented around the “half full” part. They look for the good, the blessings, and the lessons and opportunities in every situation, no matter how bad it may be.

We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe. People always find evidence and validation for their points of view. If they predict that an upcoming event will be “hard or un-enjoyable,” guess what? It probably will be. And if they view a future challenge as an “opportunity,” they’ll prove that right as well. Whatever our points of view, we will always prove them right. So why not choose to focus on empowering perspectives?

Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.” I find that inspiring. There is great power in realizing that we always have a say about our mindset, point of view and attitude – no matter what circumstances we are facing.

The more we learn to think like that, the more empowered we will be. We can always justify why we will play smaller. Or we can create exciting justifications for why we’ll play even bigger than before.

Ultimately, we either live in empowering conversations or disempowering ones. The beauty is that it’s our choice to make.

We’re Halfway Through 2013—But Did You Ever Really Complete 2012?

There’s a distinct difference between ending something and completing it. Events in the physical world have a beginning, middle and end to them – whether we like it or not. We get older. Another year passes. And our lives keep moving forward, towards an eventual ending point.

Similarly, there is a physical rhythm to our professional year that is beyond our control. In a way, we’re passengers in time. The year ends, a new year begins, and the sand in the hourglass keeps trickling down.

Completion is different. Completion is a mindset, a paradigm, and a way of viewing our efforts, achievements, successes and failures in the most empowering way.

We have no control over the fact that 2012 is now over and that we’re already halfway through 2013, but we do have full say about our relationship to what happened in the previous year, including what we delivered and what was accomplished We also have control over the conclusions and lessons we will take with us from the previous year into the next.

So here we are in June of 2013. But many of us have never really taken the time to complete 2012.

To bring closure to last year and fully prepare yourself and your team for the rest of 2013, consider the following questions–starting with some basic facts. In 2012:

  1. What results did you promise or want to deliver?
  2. What results did you actually achieve?
  3. What objectives did you deliver, and what promises did you keep?
  4. What objectives and promises did you not deliver/keep? Where did you and/or your team fall short?

Once you have embraced the hard facts, take a look at some of the bigger-picture aspects of 2012:

  1. What did you accomplish in 2012 beyond your targeted results? It’s important to honor and even celebrate what got accomplished, even if it seems small or “not enough.”
  2. How did you forward your bigger vision and purpose (whether you made all your numbers or not)?
  3. In what areas and in what ways did you get stronger? What “muscles” If you post the piece about building your warrior muscle before this blog, then you could link to it here.and new competencies did you develop? What did you learn to do – by choice or by necessity – that will make you stronger and better in the future?
  4. What valuable lessons did you learn from your successes and/or failures? This is particularly relevant and important in tough years – which can make us stronger and better prepared for future chapters.
  5. How did your successes and/or failures in 2012 better prepare you for greater success in 2013?
  6. What can you commit to in 2013 and beyond, given all that occurred and all that you learned in 2012?

The beauty of completion is that it enables and empowers us to draw out the opportunities, learning and gold from everything that happened in the past. By viewing our past deeds and achievements through the lens of “completion,” we can foster a continuous path of personal development, growth and fulfillment.

When we end a year without completion, we often feel somewhat “stuck” and not quite ready and excited to move forward. However, when we take the time to complete each year, we experience a powerful sense of harmony, confidence and calmness. We feel empowered, ready and excited about moving on to the next chapter.

So go ahead and complete 2012, and keep what you have learned in mind, because 2014 will be here before you know it.