I am moving my blog to http://www.getting-unstuck.com/ Please come and visit. Plan to have lots of new features. Thanks for your patronage and look forward to seeing at my new site.
I am moving my blog to http://www.getting-unstuck.com/ Please come and visit. Plan to have lots of new features. Thanks for your patronage and look forward to seeing at my new site.
To be blind is bad, but worse it is to have eyes and not to see.
Can you handle being wrong? The compulsion to be right prevents breakthrough insights, discoveries and other creative possibilities. When you think or know you are always right, your awareness is like a flickering light bulb and you have trouble seeing what is happening and have less sensitivity to changing circumstances. These are the times in life that you can really be blindsided. Failure often occurs not because you don’t know something, but because you spend time and energy defending a premise that is no longer true or clinging to rules and practices that are irrelevant, outdated and ineffectual. Knowledge and understanding needs to be viewed as dynamic and constantly changing.
Information has a short shelf life. In 10 years, at least 1/4 of all current “knowledge” will be obsolete. In some areas of the computer industry, 1/2 of the knowledge is obsolete in 6 months. Charlie Rose asked a panel of experts what makes highly successful people in the Silicon Valley. The answer wasn’t smarts; you can buy that. It was the ability to trust one’s intuition and to acknowledge to yourself that you thought you knew something but didn’t and immediately change course. Always be evaluating what works and what doesn’t and immediately let go of that which doesn’t work.
Males seem to have a problem asking for help. Ask any women whose mate refuses to stop and ask for directions. These women might feel great empathy for Rebecca Boone whose husband, Daniel Boone, once said, “I have never been lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”
Because I have a background in marketing and writing promotional copy, I write all the advertising and descriptive literature for my seminars. I once submitted a class description for a catalogue and without my permission the description was revised. My first thought was “How dare they Don’t they know what a talented writer I am?” The seminar sold out; it was standing room only. Based on that experience, I revised the description that would be published in other catalogues. I was willing to learn and let go of the necessity of being right.
I use to believe that exchanging business cards was a meaningless ritual and a waste of time. I was wrong. What I failed to realize was that though it may be a waste of time in certain situations, it’s a social convention and not exchanging business cards is like not shaking hands. It’s a slight rebuff and is a subtle way of offending people. It never makes sense to needlessly offend people either in a business or a social setting.
If you don’t permit yourself to be wrong, you may feel that you are eliminating risk and avoiding mistakes. You aren’t. Rain falls equally on the just and the unjust and bad things happen to good people. What you are eliminating is the aliveness and excitement of new adventures. Mistakes are the greatest teachers in life. Churchill said, “ If you want to double your rate of success, double your rate of failure.” If you aren’t making mistakes and you are always right, it simply means that you aren’t doing anything new. If you aren’t doing anything new, how can you grow? If you aren’t growing, how can life be exciting? You are stuck!
People who pride themselves on always being right cease to investigate alternatives or even think about alternatives. Creativity is founded upon the ability to consider alternatives. If you do not allow yourself to constantly ask “what if” questions, you will lead a limited life. A powerful question is “What if I’m wrong?” If you cannot consider that question, you allow yourself no wriggle room in life. Rigidity (mental rigor mortis) sets in and with this limited flexibility, you lose touch with reality and believe that you have greater control over events than really exists. No amount of blindly following rules will eliminate the randomness of life.
The secret to success and growth isn’t being always right. Nobody is always right. It’s acknowledging and responding to changing circumstances. It’s living in the present in which you are constantly evaluating your life and making the necessary daily adjustments to the changing reality. A sailboat can be off course 99% of the time, but it constantly tacks back and forth and arrives at the planned destination. It’s not bad decisions that do us in, it is the unwillingness to let go of bad decisions. Always be considering your choices and options in life and have the courage to make the necessary adjustments.
If you can never be wrong, you will never allow yourself to be a beginner and that prohibits you from trying new things and pursuing new ventures. This requires unlearning the way you were conditioned in school. In school the emphasis is on being right. We are taught the right way to do things, the correct facts, and the correct deductions to make. So the real lesson we were learning was how to conform, how to always obey and automatically follow the rules of rightness. When we blindly and automatically do what’s right, our ability to ask “Is this the best way?” or “Why are we doing this?” diminishes and our ability to continuously question the status quo atrophies. We cease to challenge assumptions.
You have probably heard the story of the housewife who would cut off both end of the roast before placing it in a pan for cooking. When asked why, she said that’s the way her mother did it. When the mother was asked why, she said that the way her mother cooked roasts. When the grandmother was asked why, she said that her pan wasn’t big enough and she had to cut off both ends of the roast to make it fit.
If you think you are always right, you are cheating yourself out of considering possibilities that could add so much meaning and joy to your life.
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.
A major predictor of whether we remain stuck or whether we grow and experience life more fully is how well we manage our daily influences. We are susceptible to external influences. Always be vigilant and attempt to gravitate towards positive influences (uplifting reading material, fulfilling experiences and inspirational people) and steer clear, as best you can, of negative influences.
The influence of our personal relationships must be understood and managed. Personal relationships can be a reservoir of negativity that needs to be avoided. Friendships often just happen. We need a better criterion for cultivating and developing friendships than just a shared past (grew up in the same town), a common interest (golfing buddies) or geographical proximity (next door neighbor). We need to be as serious about evaluating candidates for friendship as companies are when hiring new employees; we need a much stricter criterion: Are these people nutritional (good for us) or toxic (bad for us)?
Perhaps you feel you can handle the negativity of acquaintances that you see infrequently (Al’s a good ole boy and we were in the army together. Just because he drinks too much, distrusts everybody and bashes the opposite sex doesn’t mean that we can’t go to a football game once in a while).
The people you see on a regular basis, the people you routinely socialize with pose a much bigger risk; negative people re-enforce the wrong beliefs, and can be a major contributing factor to remaining stuck, having a pessimistic outlook and struggling to enjoy life.
It’s easier to apply the negativity/toxic rule with a new acquaintance. We have the luxury of being highly selective as to which people we choose for a new friendship or romantic involvement. It’s much more difficult to apply this rule to relatives, a spouse, longtime friends and co-workers.
Here are some suggestions on how to handle the harder, more complex cases that often involve loved ones:
Never underestimate the impact that relationships have on the quality and enjoyment of your life.
He who wants to do everything will never do anything.
Dreams are necessary to sustain us and allow us to see what is possible. Dreams create feelings of exhilaration. But are dreams enough? Dreams without progress create frustration, anxiety and resentment. It’s no good to see the good life without being able to participate.
To make real progress towards any goal in life you have to deal with specifics. You have to have specific goals and take specific action within a specific time frame. If not, you have chosen to disregard the power of focus. If you dream of being rich without any clarity or precision, you will probably just fantasize about wealth all your life without any palpable progress. Having a specific goal in mind (e.g. save $1,000 by the end of the year), dramatically increases the probability of success. If you are living your life without specific goals, you have made a commitment to aimless floundering rather than the pursuit of excellence and achievement. It’s important to write down your specific goals. It helps you clarify what you want and it’s harder to ignore written goals. Mental goals just don’t feel as psychologically binding; we are more serious about written goals. In the early fifties, a study was undertaken at a prestigious university to evaluate the success of a specific graduating class. Twenty years later in follow up interviews, it was discovered that the 3% with written goals had amassed greater financial wealth than the other 97%.
Why are written goals so effective? All of our personal history and living experiences exist in our memory. We only have access to a very small percentage of that knowledge or “knowing” in the waking conscious state. Methods exist (hypnosis, dreams, etc.) that help us delve deeply into the subconscious or unconscious realms and retrieve experiences. Specificity provides the focus and precision that allows us access to more knowledge and relevant past life experience. It allows the subconscious to marshal seldom used resources (forgotten memories and experiences) to assist you. Just remember you are smarter than you think you are. It’s learning to define what we want in concrete, specific terms that allows us to access that “hidden” knowledge.
The clarity and precision provided by specific and targeted thinking is also beneficial in monitoring and evaluating progress. I constantly examine my life searching for adjustments or fine tuning that can help me enjoy my life more fully and align my daily living strategies with my dreams and goals. I want to stay on track and not waste time and energy.
I have a criterion for successful living and employ a feedback mechanism to evaluate how my life is working. I use two perspectives to view and manage my life. The overall general evaluation is done at a macro level. The specifics are managed at a micro level.
At the macro level, I have 4 indicators that signal to me how my life it working. They are like the red light in your car that begins to blink indicating that you are low on oil and need to take immediate action. When one of these 4 indicators begins to blink, I feel a sense of urgency that compels me to pay attention, get in touch with my feelings and gain awareness about what is going on:
I have learned (the hard way) the value of quickly identifying when non-productive and energy-draining mental states occur. Developing awareness of these emotional states allows me the option of responding quickly and choosing strategies to change how I feel. For many, being stressed out, worried, giving away their serenity or not using their creativity skill to problem solve has become a depressing, expected way of life. These people do not routinely check in on how they are feeling and have no criteria as to whether they are experiencing life the way they wish to.
At the micro level, I try to manage all aspects of my life with a specific criterion that tells me whether that particular component is working satisfactorily. I have listed some areas of my life and the criteria that I used to judge how well they are working:
RELATIONSHIP WITH MY WIFE: Out of sight, out of mind (except for thoughts of love). When I’m with my wife, I want to thoroughly enjoy her company. When I am teaching or socializing with my friends, I want to be fully present. If thoughts of an earlier argument (lets call that a spirited debate) I had with my wife begin to seep into my consciousness, I feel that our relationship isn’t working optimally. The problem needs to be resolved quickly. I don’t want to carry around lingering resentments in a passive aggressive way.
RELATIONSHIP WITH MY CHILDREN: This is effective but not a fun one to think about. I ask myself how would I feel if something happened to one of my kids. Obviously I would feel a lot of pain and grief because I love my kids. If I also had feelings of guilt when I asked this question, this tells me that there is some unfinished business. There is something I could be doing and I’m not doing it. It might just be that I’m taking them for granted and I need to call them on the phone and tell them that I love them. This is a wonderful criterion to use because it allows a second chance and affords me the opportunity act while there is time. If I feel no guilt when asking this question, then I’m satisfied with my role in the relationship.
VOCATION/JOB: This is an easy one. I can’t wait for every day to start. My philosophy is do what you love and the money will follow. When my passion for an activity wanes and it becomes drudgery, I honor my existing commitments and phase that activity out of my life and pursue my current interests and passions.
LIFESTYLE: Is it reasonably healthy and also enjoyable? I try to build types of exercise into my life that I truly enjoy. Walking always brings my enjoyment. Running or using a treadmill doesn’t work for me. I have always wondered about the priorities of people who exercise on a treadmill and then drive two blocks to the corner grocery store to pick up a quart of milk. I eat healthy and maintain a low-fat diet most of the time. This is easy when dining at home or having a quick lunch at Subway. When special occasions arise or I’m dining out with my wife at a nice restaurant, the healthy eating has to be balanced with enjoyment and that might include a calorie-laden dessert. It’s all about balance and finding a lifestyle in which feelings of deprivation are kept to a minimum. If I always ate healthy and never allowed for celebration, I would feel like a martyr rather than a person who is enjoying life. Martyrdom has never worked for me; striving for balance between enjoyment and health is for me the key to long term success.
FRIENDS: People are generally either nutritious and good for you or toxic and bad for you. You can tell by how people make you feel. There are people that make you feel good, support you and bring out the best in you. These are the people you want to associate with. If someone’s presence always triggers some negative emotion (like fear, worry, anger, insecurity, hopelessness, frustration, etc.) that’s a toxic person for you. I make it a rule to seek out nutritional people and avoid toxic people. Ask yourself some specific questions to determine whether it is in your best interest to either begin or continue the relationship:
READING: Is it fulfilling and rewarding or are you just killing time? I used to read two newspapers in the morning, read Time and Newsweek and listen to McNeil Lehrer (an hour-long news show) Monday through Friday. I realized most of this was done by habit rather than for enjoyment. I was getting the same news 5 times and 90% of what was being reported was negative and didn’t contribute to my life in a positive way. I awoke and realized my time could be put to a more joyful use.
I love to read and I knew that breaking the habit of reading stories with negative content would not be easy. Abruptly stopping a bad habit creates a void that increases the possibility of a relapse. It’s a much more effective and easier strategy to replace a bad habit with a good habit.
I now limit myself to reading the sports section in one paper in the morning. I no longer read Time or Newsweek and I watch McNeil selectively. To fill the vacuum created by this reduced reading, I asked my wife, who is a librarian and knows my reading tastes, to help me out and to make sure that I always have a pile of good books next to my reading chair. In the morning you will now find me engrossed in a good book rather than mindlessly and routinely reading the newspaper. If you enjoy reading, a good practice is to immediately start another book after finishing a good read. This habit will assure that you will always be in the middle of a good book; one of life’s greatest pleasures for a reader. To paraphrase a Karl Malden credit card advertisement “don’t leave home without a good book”. I carry a good book with me and read whenever unexpected delays create down time. I don’t have to read a two-year-old Reader’s Digest with the cover torn off while waiting in the doctor’s office.
ENTERTAINMENT: When “having fun,” ask yourself if you are truly enjoying yourself. Determine whether you are doing the activity for pleasure or out of habit. I have a friend who constantly complains about his Sunday golf outing with his “friends.” He has been playing golf every Sunday with the same foursome for many years. It no longer brings him joy, it’s a habit that he hasn’t examined closely and tried to break. How many things do we do that we tell ourselves are recreational and yet they are more obligatory? This woman’s insight beautifully describes the problem: “It’s amazing that I have not given thought to rewarding myself before. The usual ‘reward’ I give myself is something I really don’t want, like having another drink or going out with people whom I have absolutely nothing in common with. These are really punishments. Yet I tell myself they are treats.” Develop the awareness to examine the activities that you do for entertainment and if they aren’t enjoyable, begin to branch out and try other activities that you sense might be enjoyable.
ENVY VERSUS ACCEPTANCE: Envy is one of those feelings that has gotten bad press. I use envy in a positive way to examine my life for feelings of deprivation. If something triggers envy in me, then further examination is required to see if there is something missing in my life that I want and what do I need to do about it.
Kathy and I went several years to visit friends at their summer lake home. It’s a beautiful house overlooking a scenic lake. Our friends have saved and worked many years to create the retirement home of their dreams and they feel blessed with their new lifestyle. I am happy for them but I feel no envy. I am not a boater, fisherman or swimmer and I wouldn’t be willing to make the sacrifices they made to build their dream house.
I have another friend who lives a very diversified life, travels a lot, is constantly exploring new endeavors and starting new businesses. Whenever I’m around him I pick up on his energy and feelings of excitement and I become restless. I am envious of his lifestyle. I used this feeling to tell I need to do more experimentation and to take on more projects and try more new things.
There are two ways you can die. You can stop breathing or you can stop dreaming.
It’s unhealthy not to have dreams and aspirations. The bigger the dreams, the more alive and excited you are. Dreams are good for us. Dreams tell us who we could and would be, it we have the courage to listen and pursue our desires. It’s a good mental health practice. There is a high correlation between the lack of dreams and depression. We stay stuck when we don’t dream big enough. We don’t allow ourselves to see all the wondrous possibilities that life has to offer.
Thinking big can help put new projects into a less overwhelming perspective. As a beginning writer, I allowed myself to have the goal of writing a book a year for the next 10 years. This made the current book writing project less scary, more manageable and reframes the present endeavor as merely a stepping stone to greater things.
A book that I really find stimulating is The Wish List by Barbara Ann Kipfer. It lists approximately 6,000 wishes, fantasies, hopes and dreams. I periodically go through it and check the entries that intrigue and excite me and ask myself “why not?” and “if not now, when?” It’s an excellent source of inspiration. I often add checked entries to my own “things that I want to do” list.
In career counseling sessions, clients’ self-imposed limitations surface all the time. We have difficulty facing and confronting our own potential. Dreams force us to consider abandoning the comfortable ruts that we have settled in as we travel through life. We need to understand and acknowledge how hard change is. Staying stuck is a learned defense mechanism. Change (new thoughts, new action, new behavior) is uncomfortable, especially in the early stages. If it were fun, change would be easy instead of a struggle and everyone would be doing it. Most people shy away from change unless it’s forced on them by circumstance. It’s a small percentage of people that truly examine their lives and decide to undertake action that will lead to significant change. The vast majority of people let inertia rule. They follow the path of least resistance.
The avoidance of change, on a short-term basis, makes sense. Why change? Why do this sometimes painful soul searching and take action that makes you feel uncomfortable? But on a longer-term basis, staying stuck creates a feeling of staleness, a feeling that your life really isn’t working and something is lacking. Once you gain awareness about this and understand the dynamics of change, you learn to take action and make decisions that may generate initial discomfort, but in the long term allow you to grow and have a better life.
I encounter many competent, highly skilled and talented people who are being paid far less than what their talents are worth on the open market. When confronted with this reality, they defensively say “But that’s what I’m worth” or “That’s what I’m currently being paid” or “I’ve never made more than this amount.” They refuse to recognize their potential, because to contemplate their potential requires unsettling thoughts, unfamiliar behavior and new patterns that cause discomfort. If I encounter this roadblock with a client, I always say, “Humor me, lets pretend you are worth a lot more than you are currently making. What would your resume look like and what would you do differently?” These types of questions force us to think, to view ourselves differently and to consider our potential in a real way. This awareness can lead to newfound confidence that allows one to pursue higher paying and higher quality jobs. It usually results in the procurement of a position in which the pay is more in alignment with the individual’s true worth. As Les Brown says, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you land in the stars.” We are highly programmable creatures. If you believe you are only worth a certain amount, you are right; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, if you really believe that you are worth substantially more, you are also correct.
Be aware of self-imposed limitations and ceilings that inhibit your growth and career advancement. When I decided to adhere to the philosophy of doing what I love and trusting that the money would follow, I honestly could not initially see how I could make more than a meager income. I set very low financial goals for myself. I discovered that when I reached a goal, I plateaued at my self-imposed financial ceiling and remained stuck there. I decided to think big and increase my financial goals by a factor of 10. What I discovered was that I again encountered the same problem. I reached my goal and plateaued. In order to continue growing, you have to continually raise the bar and set higher goals.
It’s important that your goals are consistent with your values and definition of integrity or your success will deplete rather than fulfill you. I’m not willing to abandon the path that provides passion and creativity to make an excessive amount of money. Greed (pursuing what you really don’t need) creates rather than solves problems.
Have you really lived ten thousand or more days, or have you lived one day ten thousand or more times?
One of my favorite quotes is by a trapeze artist after he suffered a terrible accident in which he was severely hurt and several members of his family were killed. After a long and painful recuperation, he returned to work and begun perfecting a high-risk, “death defying” trapeze act. He was asked why, after such a terrible accident, he was back performing again. He said “These are the moments I’m alive; all else is waiting.” That’s what fond memories are made of, those moments in which we feel fully alive. To experience life fully and to have these moments, we must be willing to take risks and step out of our comfort zone. We must do what initially feels terribly uncomfortable and also must accept that there are no guarantees in life. Balloons break, love affairs end and everybody has to visit the dentist.
If we aren’t willing to change our living patterns, we consign ourselves to a sameness that creates boredom and ennui. You will have discovered the perfect formula for being perpetually restless and discontent. These moments of feeling alive are the moments I live for. These are those moments of ecstasy, passion and appreciation of beauty. These are the moments that fill me with gratitude and inspire me to be my best. For in these moments, I know that this is the answer to my search for meaning and purpose in life.
Kathy and I recently spent 10 days in Rome and had experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life. One evening we were stumbling around like lost, bewildered tourists looking for a particular restaurant and having no luck. We turned the corner and there was the Pantheon, lit up with floodlights, a 2,000 year old building of indescribable beauty. It literally took my breath away.
A few days later, we went to the Vatican and saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Another “once in a lifetime,” awe inspiring and humbling moment. Experiencing the wonder, beauty and genius of Michelangelo set the stage for another one of those “moments.” On our first day in Rome, we had met and befriended a young lady from Greece. A few days later we bumped into her in front of our hotel and invited her to check out our accommodations (she was a tour guide and wanted to know more about our hotel). While in the room, we begun to talk about the wonderful sites in Rome and how we were all deeply moved by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel. Kathy begun to read some quotes and comments about Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel and Pope Julius the 2nd, who commissioned the work.
Michelangelo wasn’t keen on painting the chapel ceiling; he wanted to sculpture. Reluctance is an understatement; Michelangelo characterized one of his meetings with the Pope by saying, “I was forced to go with a halter round my neck”.
The next passage is from a letter of introduction introducing Michelangelo to the Pope and gives insight into how the pope managed to get Michelangelo to undertake this Herculean task:
Centuries later another genius, Goethe, said that no one who has not seen the Sistine Chapel can have a complete conception of what a single man can accomplish.
All three of us were choked up by these passages that helped explain so accurately our feelings and some of the history that lead to the creation of this divine masterpiece. Anna had been a virtual stranger to us and yet in that moment we felt deeply connected. These moments of aliveness and feeling connected were worth whatever price had to be paid in terms of lack of comfort and the awkwardness of being an American in a foreign country and a different culture. We are already planning our next venture abroad. Paris! Here we come.
Attention is the key; for where man’s attention goes,there goes his energy and he himself can only follow.
I suspect that positive thinking isn’t properly appreciated because people aren’t aware of the specific, tangible benefits that flow from positive thinking. Many mistakenly believe that positive thinking only create fuzzy feelings of well being and not much else. They will concede that these feelings might be nice but in the real world we need no-nonsense strategies that provide concrete, specific, measurable results. If you pooh-pooh positive thinking consider the following:
Pessimists create unnecessary suffering. Optimists maximize the joy of living.