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Exercising Gratitude

What if gratitude is an attitude that we need to exercise in order to build it? We know that it’s good for us but what about a daily exercise program to build our gratitude muscle? Gratitude brings abundance and peace to your life by focusing on what you already have, instead of what you lack. It’s easy to focus continually on what is missing from our lives. Every time we surf the Internet, turn on the TV or listen to the radio, we are bombarded by visual and aural ads, insisting that we need the newest thing or the next best thing. Advertisers try to convince us that what we have is obsolete. While there may be truth in advertising, and the fact that we do need to adapt to change, we must also realize we have a remarkable amount of tools at our disposal already, no matter what our present circumstances.

Here’s a story that happened many years ago but it still reminds me where happiness ought to begin. One day, driving to work, I happened to notice a large boulder — at least four feet high — that had been placed as the centerpiece of a garden in front of one of the houses along the road. The owners had painted their house number on the boulder in green letters, a foot high. I could see there were some words printed under the numbers and they were the words, “reasons to be happy.” Three thousand and one reasons to be happy! I admit, I was a little skeptical about this sentiment. But those words got a grip on me and wouldn’t let go. I decided to see how many reasons to be happy I could think of before getting to work. I doubt that I came up with 3001, but if my commute were any longer, I might have! With the help of this rock, I was reminded of the healing power of gratitude!

Life goes better when we have an attitude of gratitude. It literally makes the world look different. In fact, our view of the world becomes altered when we focus on something to be gratitude for because it changes what we notice and what do decide to do.

Here are just a few suggestions to experience gratitude right now:

  1. Begin with a sheet of paper or at your computer. Make a list of everything you are a grateful for, however small. If you don’t know where to start, here is a beginning: “You are alive!”
  2. Start small and build upon what makes you happy. Begin with simple feelings we take for granted — i.e., the warmth of the sun on our face, a smile, etc.
  3. Do one thing to experience the feeling of gratitude. For example, if you listed you are grateful for “the sun on your face,” go outside and bask in its warmth. If you listed, “my pet,” then go find your pet and show some affection. If you listed “your parents,” then call, write, or tell them how you feel.

Try a few of these action steps today to feel gratitude. I think you’ll find that it’s the best way to start any day.

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What Does Life Want from You?

I once heard someone ask and answer a very interesting question: What does life want from you? While it may not be possible to come to an overarching answer to a philosophical question such as this, I find these two answers to that question very empowering:

  1. Do what you can.
  2. Do the best that you can.

Now that may not sound revolutionary, but I’m willing to bet that this approach to that question leads to successful living.

Think about it. Most people struggle with what to do with their life, often choosing things that are not within their circle of competence let alone their Unique Talent™. This almost always ends in frustration. We need to figure out what makes us unique and special and build from there. The starting point is simply finding things that you can do. It’s all about doing what you can in the service others while constantly keeping an eye out for higher leverage things you can do to serve. Just as critical is noticing what you enjoy and determining what gives you a sense of meaning and satisfaction along the way.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life teaching others how to focus on what they do best as well as what they enjoy. I love to ask the question: What kinds of things do you like to do? I also ask:  What kinds of things do you do where you lose all track of time when you’re doing them? That’s what’s called getting into the flow state. My study of high achievers who are also happy with a sense of fulfillment shows that they spend more time in the flow state than most people. While you may not be able to start out hitting a bullseye, the goal is to keep moving in that direction.

Start by doing what you can. Make sure it’s in the service of others and make sure you are constantly on the lookout for what gives you that sense of flow where time seems to stand still.

The challenge is that it often takes time to discover your special set of talents. However, if you keep looking, you will find more talents, abilities, and passions that move you with each passing year. The secret is to get as close as you can to what you enjoy from the start, and then continue moving in that direction. That’s how to keep growing your entire life.

Here’s what it also means. You need to do the best you can with where you find yourself right now. It’s easy to say “I’ve got a lousy job so I just do the minimum to keep from getting fired.” I’ve observed firsthand that this idea doesn’t lead to advancement in life.

I knew that I wanted to work in the field of personal development since I was a teenager. However, I had no idea how to make that happen. I had a clear goal but didn’t know how to achieve it. Luckily, I learned that the secret to advancement is doing the best you can with whatever you are currently doing. Luckily, I read books like “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill which taught me a very simple concept. Here’s the exact quote that changed my life: “The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.”

I worked in my share of low level, low paying jobs but I always focused on doing more than I was paid to do. I was a dishwasher, cook, waiter, door-to-door salesman, telemarketer, sales manager, credit and collections manager, product/advertising manager, operations director, and finally Executive Vice President before retiring to become a full-time entrepreneur in the field of personal development. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Remember these two steps:

  1. Do what you can.
  2. Do the best that you can.

If you are already doing this, I feel confident in predicting an exciting future for you. You’re creating an exciting life one day at a time which is the only way it can be done. Have a goal in mind and constantly move in that direction. As you move forward, just remember what life wants of you. Do what you can, and do the best that you can. And keep your goal in sight. You don’t have to know exactly how to achieve it right now. Just keep moving toward it every day, and you will be moving in the right direction. You’ll also wake up one day with the realization that you’ve become one of the competent people of your generation!

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The Joys of Turning 60!

Are you looking forward to growing older? Based on my recent Internet search on the topic, I think many people are trying to talk themselves into feeling good about growing older. Here are 5 articles that came up on page one of my latest search:

  • 6 Reasons to Look Forward to Growing Old
  • 25 Things to Look Forward to About Growing Older
  • Age Gracefully: 12 Reasons to Look Forward to Growing Older
  • 19 Reasons Getting Older is the Best Thing that will Ever Happen to You
  • 7 Things to Look Forward to as You Get Older, Because Life Only Gets Better

Of course, there were 446 million hits for my search so maybe these 5 articles don’t do justice to the topic as a whole. But these articles made it to the top of a vast Internet search. Doesn’t it seem as if a lot of effort is being made trying to convince people that getting older is a great thing?

What I found particularly fascinating were the young ages of some of the writers of those articles. I’m turning 60 this month so thoughts from someone decades younger than I am don’t necessarily carry as much weight as thoughts from someone who’s been in the game as long as I have. Not only that, I want a few more decades of experience to get to the bottom of what people really think about growing older, especially from people that have lived into their 60’s and can tell me about their experiences.

Personally, I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to growing older with the emphasis on the word “growing” — as in getting better. Having said that, I have come to some conclusions that I believe reflect an intelligent way to play the aging game. I recently had a thorough health screening analysis including delving deep into my DNA. I now have a better idea of the some situations that could arise and require special attention. But I feel good having this knowledge because what you don’t know, can hurt you. On the other hand, what you do know, can often be altered, especially in the world in which we live today. We are making amazing advances in medicine and technology which stagger the imagination.

One of my underlying reasons for looking forward to the years ahead stems from something that one of my mentors, Earl Nightingale, frequently pondered. As he reached age 60 and years beyond, he was fond of saying that “the years after 60 can be the best years of your life.” That was certainly true in his life so I’ve decided to hold myself accountable, to the best of my ability, to making it true in my life.

I challenge you to do the same.

On July 22, 1981, when I was 21 years old, I started keeping a journal. It began with the idea that if life is worth living, then it’s worth recording. Keeping a journal shows that you are a serious student of life, and you want to learn from your experiences to get better in the future. Let’s face it, making the same mistakes over and over and not learning from them can be one of the greatest tragedies in life.

I still have that first journal along with a file cabinet full of journals that followed. All are filled up with ideas and experiences that have been organized and indexed. Eventually, I switched over to a digital format on computer, then iPad, and now I even use my iPhone, which includes a complete index of all of my journals with complete access to all of the digital entries. When I reread my journals at the end of every year to see what kind of progress I’m making, I find it fascinating to see where I’ve made progress and where I need to make changes for the coming year. Again, life is about growth!

No matter what your age, I can’t recommend this process strongly enough. Reading these journals helps me make sense of my life and reminds me of all that I’ve experienced and learned over these first 5 decades.

I’ve learned that we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a year but greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. I’m looking forward to the accomplishment of some of my biggest and most important goals in the next decade. These are goals that would not have been possible at the beginning of my journey, but now they are in sight. It’s like climbing a mountain, the higher you climb, the farther you can see!

Let me end this post with some advice I collected from William James, also known as “The Father of American Psychology.” This quote is one of my first journal entries from July 24, 1981. It is as true for me today as it was when I first read it and immediately wrote it down.

“Often our faith (belief) in advance of a doubtful undertaking is the only thing that can assure its successful completion.” – William James

That quote serves to remind me of the importance of believing in what I am working toward and keeping that faith strong through the challenges that inevitably show up. Join me in the belief that the next decade is going to be extraordinary, and then let’s make it that way!

One of my goals is to check back with you with another blog post in 10 years titled, “The Joys of Turning 70!” I hope you’ll join me for that. Let’s be ready to compare notes!

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Life Happens for You

What if the only thing holding you back in life is the story you tell yourself about how life works?

Human beings seem to be natural story tellers. Evidence suggests that we’ve been telling ourselves stories from the beginning of time. Certainly, some of those stories are true. However, some of the stories we tell ourselves are undoubtedly just a matter of belief. They are quite often opinions that don’t square with reality. Yet they are stories that help us understand the world and our place in it. At the deepest level, they contain the essence of what we believe about life.

Here’s an example: Do you believe that life happens “to you” or “for you?”

Isn’t that an interesting distinction? What do you believe?

In my experience coaching people, I often hear “stories” from my clients that suggest that life is happening to them, that life is beyond their control. Perhaps, on some level, that’s true. But is that a good belief to hold? Is that belief good for you, good for others, and does it serve the greater good?

When I suggest that perhaps life is not happening “to them” but “for them,” it often creates an “ah ha” moment. In the East, the word “Satori” means instant awakening, comprehension, or understanding. In these moments, life looks different somehow. The problems we face may be the same. The conditions may be unchanged but yet our viewpoint and ultimate experience transforms.  When our “story” changes, our life changes on some level.

Think about some problem you are currently facing and then decide if that problem is happening “to you” or “for you?”

I choose to believe that “Life happens for me.” The difference is just one word. Think about that. Is life happening “to” you or “for” you? I don’t always remember this belief when problems seem to be hitting me from all sides but, when I do, I have a moment of Satori.