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Success Lies

My guess is you might be surprised with my title choice for this blog post. The title “Success Lies” seems like a bit of an oxymoron, however, I think I can make a case that much of what we think we know, we don’t, and many beliefs about success that are assumed to be accurate, are not. That’s a strong statement, but let me see if I can support my point.

Let me begin with what I call my Prime Directive, a rule I follow where I never tell anyone what to believe. I may question beliefs but I don’t tell anyone what to believe. I adopted this rule a number years ago when I discovered that I was being told things about how life works and how to achieve success in life that turned out to be false. While I’m sure I’ve broken my rule on occasion, I encourage people to decide for themselves what to believe based on the best information that is available. The bottom line is this: We don’t actually know how the world works! (The good news is we are learning more every day.)

Much of what we assume to be true is based on old ideas passed down from previous generations. We don’t always revisit our long-held beliefs and ideas with the light of today’s current knowledge. We need to make sure our beliefs are based on the best information available about how the world really does work.

While all of us have our subjective viewpoints, observations, and opinions, there is an abundance of disagreement on the facts, and for good reason. It’s safe to say that if you compare what we thought we knew about our world 100 years ago to what we think we know today we’d see huge disparities.

Let’s start with the most troubling of the lies which is that we are in complete control of our lives. That we control our reality and our destiny. How many times have you heard someone say: You are in control of your destiny. Wrong. We can certainly influence and shape our destiny in many ways but there are tons of other factors involved besides our choices and actions.

While there are an infinite number of factors affecting your life, I think these three are the most important:

1. Our Genes.
2. Our Environment.
3. Our Thoughts.

So do you control all of those? Did you choose your genes, your parents, and your early environment? Some people believe that they did. Seriously, they believe that before entering life they made a sacred pack with the Universe or God and planned everything in advance so their karma would provide them with the exact life experiences needed for another chance at reaching nirvana.

Now keep in mind that I’m not criticizing this belief. I have no idea if it’s accurate or not. You could even make an argument that having this belief is good for you if it helps you function better in the world and it doesn’t harm others. There is certainly more than ample evidence to support what’s known as “The Placebo Effect” illustrating that beliefs do have an impact. I’m especially fascinated with the study of “Epigenetics” – i.e., with the idea that our thoughts and behaviors can influence the expression of our genes. Just imagine what that means. There is research that suggests we may have the power to influence how our genes are expressed in our lives. So while we may not have chosen our genes, perhaps how they are expressed in our lives can be changed. This means we need to continue to let science and experimentation lead the way rather than clinging to ideas that have been shown to be invalid.

Perhaps the bottom line is this: If you have a belief that is good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good, fantastic. I’d call that belief a winner. However, if you believe that your destiny is to rule the world no matter what, what then? Should you be in charge and get exactly what you want no matter how it affects others? I think not. While you might think this is an extreme example, it proves my point.

Beliefs are ideas that represent an acceptance that a particular statement is true or that something exists. The essence of every religion is a set of beliefs. But are all of the religious beliefs in the world true? Are some of them true? Which ones are true and which are false? Would you say that all of the world’s religious beliefs have been good for humanity and our beautiful blue island in space?

While this may seem an idea too deep or too involved to address in a short blog post, I would just end by suggesting that you examine your beliefs very carefully. Start by listening more critically to so-called Success Principles. As an old mentor of mine once said, “Stand guard at the door of your mind.” Don’t just adopt beliefs without careful analysis because it is entirely possible to adopt a belief with good intentions but turn out to be sincerely wrong.

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Be Useful

Would you say that you are useful? I can assure you the answer is yes but what you do think? This is an important question to consider, especially if you don’t feel like your life is on the right track. To help you think about your answer, I want to share something from Robert Fulghum, the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Here’s what Mr. Fulghum wrote on his website about being useful:

* * * * *

“Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, coworkers, and neighbors. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, ordinary ways. People who, by example, teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the daily-ness of life.

“I want to be one of those.

“You may be one of those, yourself. There are those who depend on you, watch you, learn from you, are inspired by you, and count on you being in their world. You may never have proof of your importance to them, but you are more important than you may think. There are those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who. We seldom make this mutual influence clear to each other. But being aware of the possibility that you are useful in this world is the doorway into assuring that will come to be true.

“My way is to keep writing and sharing that. What’s yours?”

* * * * *

I think it’s hard to improve on that. If fact, I think it’s not only a good idea to review Mr. Fulghum’s ideas about being useful from time-to-time, but also to review what he learned in kindergarten that became the guiding principles of his life, and the basis for many best-selling books.

Here they are in summary form:

* * * * *

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN
by Robert Fulghum

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

© Robert Fulghum, 1990.
Found in Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten Villard Books: New York, 1990, page 6-7.

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Hits of Happiness

I recently googled “how to be happy” and got 3.7 billion hits. Then for fun I googled “how to be unhappy” and only got 82.7 million hits. I found that interesting. Does that mean there are more ways to be happy than unhappy or are there simply more websites devoted to happiness than there are websites devoted to unhappiness? In either case, there are undoubtedly more people searching for happiness than unhappiness.

My question is how many hits of happiness are you getting in life? Are you getting billions of hits of happiness with only a few hits of unhappiness or is it the reverse? Interestingly, in reading through some of the websites, I found the first few hits on the unhappiness list to be most helpful.

The pursuit of happiness is a universal quest, and even an obsession for some. Of course, I think happiness is what most people aspire to experience. However, reviewing what creates unhappiness may be the best way to focus your thinking.

Here’s a short list I found that makes experiencing unhappiness quite easy:

  1. Buy things you can’t afford or don’t want. Either choice is a sure fit for unhappiness. When you buy things you can’t afford, you go into debt, which limits the other choices available to you. When you buy things you don’t want, you lie to yourself about the real source of your unhappiness.
  2. Compare yourself to others. The love of comparison is the root of much misery. Therefore, judge your success or worth based on other people, especially those with a different background from you. Do this on a continual basis, always looking for a new idol or competitor in which your ideal unhappiness lies.
  3. Take no joy in the journey. Focus only on the destination without appreciating the ride. Fail to celebrate small successes, and neglect to pause for reflection on how far you’ve come.
  4. Respond instead of initiate. Take no responsibility for your schedule or preferences. Let other people set the agenda for your life. Take the lead for your schedule from your Inbox, voicemail, or someone else’s demands.
  5. Allow other people to determine your values and priorities. Set no compass point for your life. Drift in the wind. For best results, allow your values and priorities to shift as you waver between bosses or role models.
  6. Refuse to challenge yourself. Take it easy and settle into routine. Choose to believe that all stress is bad and seek to live as relaxed a life as possible.
  7. Whine and complain to anyone who will listen. Explain how the world isn’t fair and how you would do things differently if you were in charge. Bonus: this practice also allows you to contribute to other people’s unhappiness.
  8. Focus only on yourself. Refuse to forgive. Hold on to grudges. See the worst in people.
  9. Accept things as they are no matter how unsettling they might seem. It could always be worse, right? Live in the complacency of your situation and refuse to fight for something better.

That’s a great list. If you want to see the entire blog post, I’ve included the link below.

What’s most important is to make sure that your daily hits of happiness are higher than your hits of unhappiness. That simple list just might help.

Finally, I thought I’d round out the list to an even 10 with just one more:

  1. Refuse to develop your gifts or use them to serve others. Don’t work on developing those things that you enjoy and that fascinate you in life. Don’t explore who you are at the deepest level, and don’t work on becoming the best version of you. The bottomline: Don’t discover and find your Unique Talent™! That will lead to unhappiness. I promise.

 

Source:  https://chrisguillebeau.com/unhappy/

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Don’t Compete, Create!

Do you believe that life is one big game of competing to get ahead? Do you take the game so seriously that it becomes winning at any cost? Sometimes life looks like the world is filled with an endless path of competition and struggle. From the beginning there’s a challenge to do well in school, then a challenge to find the right career, then a challenge to move up the ladder in your career, then a challenge to keep up with your neighbors, then a challenge to stay healthy, and on and on. Competition appears to be a dominant force. But what if you’ve taken the concept too far? What if there’s a better way to play the game of life that’s much more rewarding?

Consider for a moment the possibility of starting to play the game of life from a standpoint of creating instead of competing. Competing is striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same. Conversely, creating is bringing something into existence or causing something to happen as a result of your actions. You could go so far as to say that “to compete” can mean “to destroy” your competitors whereas “to create” can mean “to collaborate” with your so-called competitors.

Focusing on creating brings to mind such action words as building, constructing, promoting, fabricating, fostering, generating, and producing. These words all sound much better than competing in a win-lose game. Creating instead of competing could turn “competitors” into “collaborators.” And if it’s not possible to work with “competitors” perhaps it’s time to avoid them altogether. Instead try working on your own independent ideas that no one else may have considered.

In thinking about this topic over the years, I’ve come to the realization that competing for the sole purpose of winning can be waste of valuable time, and it can leave you with feelings of inferiority through comparison. A person who is competing is often stuck in the trap of comparison. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt said it best with this idea: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Focus on creating instead of competing. Remember that your ultimate competitive advantages are those things that make you unique. No one else can compete with what I call your “Unique Talent™.” Your Unique Talent™ is like a mote around your castle. If you haven’t found your Unique Talent™, keep looking because finding it and using it in the service of others is your gift to give to the world.

Don’t compete, create!

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Do You Create Your Own Reality?

How many times have you heard this said, “you create your own reality?” If you Google the phrase, you’ll find endless support for this popular idea. Do you believe it’s true? Do you indeed create your own reality? I used to accept this concept and even teach it, but not any longer. It fell apart for me after years of careful examination and study.

I’ve learned that it’s important to be open to challenging any and all beliefs, even if they appear to be sound at first glance. This is where lifelong learning comes into play. It takes courage to question an idea that you’ve been led to believe is true. Unfortunately, many people won’t even consider challenging their beliefs. Yet I’ve learned that anything worth believing must be able to withstand the assault of reason and science. A combination of reason and science always supports and enhances the best ideas.

Of course, all of us have beliefs that aren’t serving us. It’s easy to believe things that aren’t good for us or anyone else. I plead guilty to harboring more than my share of bad ideas. I’ve spent my life working on improving my beliefs while, at the same time, helping others to do the same. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to find a few strategies that have proved helpful in this process.

Here are my three rules or strategies for examining beliefs:

  1. The Prime Directive– I never tell anyone what to believe. Period. I think of it like the old Star Trek Prime Directive Motto about not interfering with developing planets. However, if someone asks my opinion about a particular belief, I’m happy to offer my perspective on what I think the consequences of holding such a belief might be.
  2. The Belief Challenge– I love to question beliefs in search of the truth. I think the best any of us can do is to work relentlessly to get closer to the truth, knowing that the absolute truth may not be knowable right now. The best way I’ve found to determine if a belief needs to be eliminated or replaced is to examine if the belief is good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good. Many beliefs completely fall apart after a few questions in this regard, especially once you learn the consequences and ultimate outcome of beliefs. I like to say it this way: all beliefs have consequences. Do you know what the consequences of your current beliefs are? Where are your beliefs taking you?
  3. The Belief Substitution– I think, if possible, it’s best to replace a belief rather than just eliminate it. If a belief cannot pass the test of rigorous reason and analysis, it’s time to throw it out. However, it’s often better to replace a limiting belief with an empowering one as opposed just eliminating it. The loss of a belief can create a vacuum that is best filled with something better.

Let’s get back to the popular belief that you create your own reality. If this idea is true, why don’t you have everything that you want right now? Why isn’t your life exactly the way you want it down to the smallest detail? As an example, why are doctors of any kind necessary if you can simply wish away any mental or physical challenge you may have? Surely if you create your own reality, it follows that you can create whatever reality that you want including making yourself look, feel, think, and act in any way you wish. And money, that’s no problem, right? Just visualize the amount of money you want in your bank account, and you’re good to go.

Now if you’re thinking that you haven’t created your own reality yet but you just need more time, why? Doesn’t it follow that if you create your own reality, you control time along with everything else? If this is getting a bit absurd, then you can see where I’m going. If a belief cannot withstand the ongoing assault of logic, reason, and common sense, then there’s something wrong with it. In the case creating your own reality, it leads you down a path that involves “magical thinking.” While it may be fun to believe that you create your own reality, it can also be quite dangerous and destructive.

Think about it this way. If you create your own reality, then it follows that you have the ultimate super power. Forget about the other Marvel comic strip characters because with the ability to create your own reality, you control everything. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and all of the others need not apply. You’ve got it covered.

But alas, there is no evidence that a real super hero exists other than what I call “the best version of you” which doesn’t require any hocus pocus. All you need to be “the best version of you” is the courage to learn and apply a common sense set of rules and guidelines that produces real results.

Because I want to really drive home this point, here are two examples of the kind of damage I have observed in myself and others when magical thinking takes over:

  1. Believing that you create your own reality tends to develop deeper and deeper levels of unhappiness and inadequacy as you learn that you can’t turn all of your beliefs into reality. The worst part is when you beat yourself up because of what you might see as your failure to believe. You might even get the well-meaning, yet misdirected, advice to just try harder.
  2. Believing that you can create your own reality can lead you to waste valuable time wishing and hoping when what’s called for is clear thinking, strategic planning, and massive action. Don’t waste your life with magical thinking when intelligent thinking is the answer.

So, here’s my opportunity to help you eliminate this belief if you’re interested. Let me suggest a replacement belief. Read the following quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and see what you think:

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

Notice the difference between believing you create our own reality versus believing you are a collaborator in the creation process. I find the idea of being a collaborator in creation very empowering. Notice how it’s focused on stretching your abilities to the max while also suggesting that you are a creation collaborator. This idea proposes that you are capable of much more than you currently realize while also indicating that you are a member of a team. It’s not all about you. It says that your job is to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible while working with others to do the same. It leads to questions like these: Are you pushing against your comfort zone with the best team you can find? If not, why not?

Write down the above quote and put it somewhere you can see it every day. Then the next time someone tries to convince you that you create your own reality, read the quote again. It is estimated that 100 billion people have appeared on planet earth; however, you are unique and special. No one exactly like you has ever before appeared on planet earth. Moreover, an exact copy of you is not possible because of your unique combination of genes, environment, and thoughts. You are a one-of-a-kind individual. That should provide you with all of the motivation you need to stay focused on discovering what I call your Unique Talent™ and then using that talent in the service of others. That’s what is most important and, moreover, I believe that is something you were born to do. Just remember to collaborate because the better your team, the better your results.

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Why?

I love to encourage people. In fact, I believe that when I do it well, it’s the most powerful thing I can do to serve others.  For me, there’s simply nothing like the feeling of offering an idea that has the potential to improve someone’s life and then watching to see the reaction. Here’s the reaction that I’m always working to achieve when I talk with a client. I want the client to ask: “I wonder if what Robert just said would really work? It sounds like the idea worked for him but would it work for me? I wonder if I should try to implement this idea in my own life and see what happens?” That’s the bulls-eye for me!

When I coach, give seminars, or workshops, I love to end a presentation with something that I learned from one of my most important mentors. His name is Jim Rohn, and he inspired a whole generation of personal development authors and speakers. His most famous student is probably Tony Robbins. If you take a minute to Google “Jim Rohn” and learn about his life’s work, you’ll find a long list people who give him credit for changing their lives. Although I’ve had more mentors than I can count, Jim Rohn, along with the legendary Earl Nightingale, are always at the top of my list.

The reason I’m mentioning Jim Rohn is that I want to share an idea with you that was a part of many of Jim Rohn’s speeches. He would often end his speeches with this idea. In fact, I can still remember the first time I heard him share this idea, and my reaction of excitement, wonder, and endless possibilities.

After humbly sharing his remarkable life story and the many lessons that he learned and practiced during his life, Jim Rohn would ask a series of 4 questions. He would begin with the simple question of “Why?” He would basically challenge the audience by saying: Why do all of the things I’ve talked about to improve your life? Why set goals and work to achieve them? Why develop the skills you need to succeed in the world? Why work as hard as possible to become as successful as possible? Why keep pushing forward despite the many obstacles? Why bother to go through all of the work required when you can instead just choose to drift along in life? Clearly the question of “why” is one worth considering.

The answer to his question of “Why?” was always the same. He would say: The best answer to the question of “Why” is the question “Why not?” Why not work to become all that you are capable of becoming? Why not stretch yourself to see what you can become? Why not set some big goals and see if it’s possible for you to achieve them? After a series of these kinds of “Why not?” questions, he would then say: What else are you going to do with your life? You have to stay here until you go so why not become all that you are capable of becoming?

Just the questions “Why?” and “Why not?” would have been enough. I was ready to take action after I heard his message. But wait, there was more. He would then say: “Why not you?” Other people have done incredible things with their lives, why not you? He would challenge you to think about all of the people you admire who have achieved the goals that you want to achieve and by so doing challenge the false belief that others are capable of great things but not you. Instead, he would say that if they found a way to achieve their goals, then why not you?

The final piece de resistance was the question: “Why not now?” He would expand this simple question by saying in essence: Why postpone your better future any longer? Why not get started today on the things that can change your life for the better?

I can still remember my reaction. I realized in that moment that while indeed there were real obstacles on my list of the things holding me back from achieving what I wanted in life, there’s was hope. I just had to admit to myself that I was front and center in holding myself back in life. I needed to change myself if I wanted to change my results. I still remember writing this quote from Jim Rohn in my journal for the first time:

“For things to change for you, you’ve got to change. Otherwise, it isn’t going to change.”

I offer you that same advice. Have I been able to achieve everything that I’ve wanted to achieve in my life? No. Of course not. However, the game isn’t over. I’m still working on the goals that are important to me. How about you? Are you drifting along or are you purposely working to make daily progress? And are you enjoying the journey?

I can tell you that I’ve achieved things that I never thought were possible for me because of incredible mentors like Jim Rohn, and the many ideas that they shared. They inspired and encouraged me. My goal is to try to be useful in life by working to inspire and encourage you.

Take a minute to write down these 4 questions and then review them at least once a day. After say, thirty days, see if you don’t notice a difference. Keep doing this for a year, and then check your progress. I’m willing to bet that these simple questions will help you accomplish your goals while at the same time helping you to become the person you most want to be.

Why? Why not? Why not you? Why not now?

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Three Steps to Solve ANY Problem

Do you have a problem that you’d like to solve?

Here’s a simple three-step formula that never fails:

  1. Define the problem as precisely as possible.
  2. Visualize what the problem will look like when solved.
  3. Take daily steps toward your vision.

Perhaps that seems overly simplistic; however, I’ve never had anyone give me a better formula. The truth is that we are always either in a problem, we just got out of a problem, or we are heading straight toward a problem. Those are the only three options we are ever handed while traveling on this beautiful blue, island in space. This means that we’d better have a system or formula for dealing with problems or we are going to spend a great deal of our life in constant frustration.

When a problem confronts us, we are often caught off guard and begin to think that something totally unique has crossed our path. But that’s not the case. Our ancestors have been solving problems for thousands of years or we wouldn’t even be here. So our job is to solve the problems that face us so the next generation can stand firmly on our shoulders and keep the process moving forward.

So what is the biggest problem you are currently facing? Do you wonder if it can be solved? It can, but it might just take some laser beam focus and determination to get the job done. We know that problems are a constant in life and we also know how to solve problems by using this simple formula, so let’s dig in a bit deeper to see what kind of problem might be standing in our way.

The first thing I like to do when presented with a problem is see it as clearly as possible and also decide if it is a convergent problem or a divergent problem. In other words, is the problem one where a single, correct answer can be found or is it one where many possible solutions are available?

Convergent problems are solved when you converge on the correct answer. It’s like the solution to a math problem. Two plus two always equals four. That was the solution yesterday and today and it will certainly be the solution tomorrow. Convergent problems have systematic and logical answers that solve the problem every time.

Divergent problems, on the other hand, diverge or can go off in many directions. These kinds of problems have multiple solutions and require new, original, unique, or free-flowing solutions. Marriage is a great example of a divergent problem. What works today to keep a marriage vibrant and happy might not work tomorrow. And, more importantly, there are no singular answers that will work every time. Anyone who is in a successful marriage knows that it requires constant work.

So what about the problem you are currently facing, is there a single answer that will work if you discover it? Or do you need a range of options to choose from in order to whip the problem? Most problems facing us are divergent problems that require spontaneity and creativity.

I’ve spent my life working with entrepreneurs which is something that I thoroughly enjoy. I often point out to my clients that they are unique in the way they make a living and spend their days. While most people have a set schedule, prearranged relationships, and constraints on the amount of money they can make depending on their exact position or job, entrepreneurs have much more control. They get to choose their schedule and how they use their time. They get to choose the people they will do business with, and they also get to choose how much money they will make by virtue of the way they choose to run their business.

When you control your time, relationships, and money, your options in life are greatly expanded; however, you still have plenty of problems to solve and that includes a seemingly endless supply of divergent problems that require creative thinking.

Luckily, human beings are built for creative thinking. It’s literally in our DNA. We are designed to solve problems and solve them we do. Write down your currently problem and define it with as much clarity as possible. Look at it from every possible angle until you can see it in its entirely. Once you’ve done that, sit back and daydream about ways in which your problem could be solved. What would your problem look like if solved? See your life without your problem. What does that look like? What does it feel like?

It’s been said that whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. If that’s true, then it’s true for you and your problem. So see the solution in your mind like an already accomplished fact. See yourself celebrating the fact that you’ve solved your problem. Now you’ve taken charge of the situation.

All you have to do now is begin moving every day toward that vision in your mind. All you have to do is one thing at a time in the order of its importance to you and the solution of your problem. If you keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll wake up one fine morning to the realization that your problem is solved. But don’t stop there. Now it’s time for another problem because you are a problem solver. That means you need a problem to solve because that’s what successful human beings do. So decide what your next breakthrough is going to be. It may involve some problems but you already know how to solve them, right? The secret is that simple three-step formula: (1) define your problem, (2) visualize a solution, and (3) take daily steps toward the solution. For good measure, add a bit of persistence and determination and you’ll defeat whatever problem stands in your way.

Life becomes infinitely more rewarding and exciting when you know how to play the game. So carefully choose your next move and remember to enjoy the journey!

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The Most Interesting Story in the World

Have you ever heard the most interesting story in the world? It’s the story of how you became the person you are today. It’s also the story about who you will become in the future. While there are undoubtedly an infinite number of factors or causes contributing to who you’ve become and who you will become, after spending most of my life looking for answers, I think I can boil it down to the 3 most important contributing factors.

To begin, visualize in your mind’s eye, a blank canvas that is framed and hanging on the wall like a beautiful piece of artwork. On this blank canvas we are going to first examine what happened to you before you were born. This is the background of your painting and your life. If you look closely, you’ll notice that your parents and each of your parents’ thousands of ancestors placed a drop of paint or made a small brush stroke on that canvas. Your painting now contains the first most important factor that makes up your life, your genes or your DNA.

It’s estimated that there have been over 100 billion people born on planet earth, yet not one of them has had your exact DNA. Just as no two snowflakes or diamonds are exactly the same, your genetic makeup is different in some way from every person who has ever lived or ever will live on the planet. Whether you like it or not, you are an original.

So the first thing that has influenced who you have become is your original genetic structure. Everything about you from your eye color and hair color to your height and weight have their roots in your DNA coding. Even your remarkable brain that is considered to be the most complex structure in the entire universe grew from your one-of-a-kind genetic coding. Moreover, your most valuable asset is that miraculous, 3-pound supercomputer between your ears.

I personally love to study geniuses to get an idea of what’s possible with a human brain. I enjoy studying people like Mozart, for example. Little Wolfgang was discovered to have perfect pitch at age 3 by his musician father. By the time Mozart was 14, it was discovered that he had a photographic memory for music that gained him an invitation from the Vatican to visit the Pope in Rome. Of course, many people don’t find their talent until much later in life. The man whose name has become synonymous with the word genius was thought to be not especially talented by his early teachers. His entry into the job market was as a clerk in a patent office. But while others didn’t think much about him, Albert Einstein was reading, studying, and building his incredible mind. He tapped into the miraculous equipment with which he was born to unlock many of the mysteries of time and space. Einstein solved problems that were once considered impossible to solve.

Now you may not have perfect pitch like Mozart or have a gift for theoretical physics like Einstein, but that’s not the point. What’s important to know is that you are undoubtedly strong and gifted in areas where Mozart and Einstein were weak. I personally believe that each of us has something that I call Unique Talent™. It’s the thing that you are meant to do. It’s something where the combination of your passions and talents are merged together. Have you figured out what that is for you? If not, I promise you that you can find it with some intelligent searching. It’s your most important quest in life. In your own way, you can change the world with your Unique Talent™ just as Mozart and Einstein did.

The second factor that has controlled who you have become in life also started before you were born just like the composition of your DNA. In the same way that didn’t choose your genetics, you didn’t choose your original environment. What this means is that the next bit of paint that was added to that canvas still hanging on the wall was mostly painted by others, especially in your early years. From the environment in your mother’s womb, to your environment as a child, choices were made for you. And the truth about life that doesn’t get enough attention is the fact that the environment in which we live plays a major part in who and what we become. We tend to become like the people we are around without even noticing it. The neighborhood where we grew up, the people who raised us, the teachers we’ve had, the books we’ve read, and everything else we have been exposed to have all added to our painting.

So the first factor is your DNA and the second factor is your environment. You haven’t had a great deal of choice so far but now the story gets really interesting with the third factor shaping your world.

At some point in your life, you came online. You became self-aware. We don’t know exactly when this happens as some people have memories of being in their mother’s womb while others don’t remember much of their childhood. But it’s interesting to consider your earliest memories as well as what you’ve been thinking about most of your life. I believe that your thoughts ultimately control your life so it’s critically important what you choose to think about. This is where you can exert the most control.

You began as DNA being shaped by your environment but you eventually started crawling into the driver’s seat of your life with your thoughts.

People who know about such things tell us that the average person has over 50,000 thoughts a day. The problem is that for most people, the 50,000 thoughts they will have today are the same ones they had yesterday. If you want to change your life, you’ve got to change your thoughts.

I recommend doing what I call a “Mental Download” on occasion, so you can examine what you’re thinking about. Write down your thoughts for a day and analyze what you are thinking about. Determine if your thoughts are taking you in the direction you want to go. You’ll learn a great deal about yourself with this simple process. You may be surprised with what you find lurking around in your mind. Just remember that you can change your thoughts, and when you do, you’ll change your life.

So there you have it: genes, environment, and thoughts. Study all three. Learn more about all three. You can influence all of them! Great minds are currently working on figuring out how to alter or manage bad DNA, and the human race is awakening to the role we play in shaping our environment on a grand scale and learning how we can make it better. We need to do the same in the neighborhood in which we live. And don’t forget to discover and start exploring your Unique Talent™. Your life becomes the best it can be when you put yourself in the best environment possible, and start thinking the thoughts that are calculated to take you where you really want to go in life.

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The Magic Word

One of my first mentors in personal development, Earl Nightingale, referred to the word “attitude” as both “The Magic Word” and one of the most important words in the English language. As with much of what Earl wrote and talked about, he was right on with this idea.

As a life-long student of success and failure, I’ve found that our attitude is the single greatest factor in determining how we experience life. It’s not an overstatement to say that it’s the strongest force behind the results we achieve.

Your attitude is a mixture of your philosophy of life, your beliefs, your expectations, and your emotions. What you feel and experience in life is primarily coming from your attitude, your outlook on life.

Perhaps attitude can best be defined as a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically in a way that is reflected in a person’s behavior. It’s hard to obtain good or great results in life without a good or great attitude.

How would you rate your attitude? As with all success concepts, attitude is not the only factor involved in what you achieve (or don’t achieve), but it’s right up there at the top.

Consider for a moment the attitudes of the people you’ve been around most of your life. Would you describe the general attitude in your environment both past and present to be poor, good, or great? Think about the attitude of your parents and other relatives as well as all of the people you are around on a daily basis right now. And how about the attitude that you bring to your environment? Would you describe it as poor, good, or great?

When clients tell me about the environment they experience on a daily basis, I often suggest the following method for sorting things out. If your environment, including the people you are currently around, reflects a poor attitude, consider using some strategic disassociation; if your environment is good, but not what you most want in your life, consider limiting the negative associations. If your environment is great, look for ways to expand your association with those people that most inspire you to grow. This is one of those concepts that is deceptively simple, yet all encompassing when it comes to how we experience life.

For the next 30 days, try cultivating a great attitude in all of your dealings with the world. I can promise you that this won’t be easy at first, especially if this isn’t something you have spent a lot of time previously thinking about or working on. However, if you’ll keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll soon discover that you are developing a new pattern of behavior that will impact every area of your life in ways that you can’t even imagine.

Work on making your attitude better every day and watch as new levels of synchronicity and serendipity come your way. We tend to get out of life what we expect, and our attitude is the key.

Focus your attitude using these two key words: Gratitude and Expectancy. First, be grateful for where you are in life and what you’ve already accomplished. In some ways, you’ve already won the grand prize in life. A scientist would tell you that your appearing on planet earth is beyond calculation or comprehension, especially if you happened to show up in a free country. So you’ve already won the lottery.

Second, expect the best. Cultivate an attitude of hopeful expectation. Work on expecting the best from life and watch how having great expectations leads to having even more to be grateful about.

Finally, commit the following three Earl Nightingale quotes to memory as a way to lock in place this most important idea:

  • “Our attitude toward others determines their attitude toward us.”
  • “We can let circumstances rule us, or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.”
  • “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”

Earl was often referred to as the “Dean of Personal Development.” It’s certainly not hard to see why.

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New Year’s “NOT TO DO” Resolutions

Have you ever thought about having a “NOT TO DO” list as a part of your New Year’s Resolutions?

One of my yearend rituals that I share with clients involves writing a “NOT TO DO” list. It’s quite simple really. Make a list of 3 things you want to stop doing this year. That’s it. Not complicated. I find this idea surprises most people. It seems we have a tendency to think mostly in terms of what we need to start doing. But as with all things in life, turning around to look in the other direction can be very enlightening.

Consider this. The things that we are doing that we shouldn’t be doing are taking up valuable time, and our time on planet earth is limited. So another way of thinking about this idea is to ask yourself what things am I doing that are wasting my time and my life, precious time that could be spent doing what’s most important to me?

I believe the best use of our time is doing those activities that are directly related to our Unique Talent™. However, it’s easy to start taking on projects and activities that have nothing to do with our Unique Talent™ if we’re not careful. Think of it this way: Your Unique Talent™ is your gift to the world. It is the most valuable service you can provide to others. Other than time spent with your family and friends, your Unique Talent™ is the best thing to focus on.

So with that in mind, what should you stop doing?

Because I believe one should eat his or her own cooking, these are 3 things that I added to my current New Years “NOT TO DO” Resolutions:

  1. Stop all manner of housework including any and all cleaning, straightening up, handyman stuff, yard work, remodeling, or property management. You get the idea. I admit that I’m already pretty good at this as my wife will attest, but I want to shut it down completely. I want to live my life as if I lived in a fine hotel with everything provided. Because my wife will read this, I better be clear that I don’t want her doing anything that she doesn’t want to do. My goal is to hirer people who love doing what needs to be done. Yes, some people have a Unique Talent™ for cleaning, home repair, yard word, remodeling … you name it. I don’t want to take this work away from them because we both know I’m not going to do a good job at these things anyway because my heart isn’t in it. So the key is to spend more time on my areas of Unique Talent™. That’s the best way I can serve others.
  1. Stop vacationing at home. I’m embarrassed to admit this to you. I spent some of my vacation time last year at home. To be clear, I was indeed vacationing and not working, but staying home doesn’t cut the mustard. We all need stimulation and change, which includes giving ourselves the chance to see and experience other places. It’s good for us and helps us grow. Luckily, I do get to travel a lot for work but work doesn’t count. While I have been fortunate to travel all over the world, I need to do more traveling where there is no work of any kind involved. Just wandering around this beautiful, blue island in space is one of the most life enriching and mind expanding things you can do. So for me it’s time to take out the old list of places I’d like to visit and start crossing travel destinations off the list. Come join me, won’t you?

(You may think I’m joking about this last one but I’m dead serious. Seriously!)

  1. Stop spending the Christmas and New Years holidays in Michigan. Allow me to confess that I don’t always spend the holidays in Michigan. I’ve been to many destinations for the holidays including Caribbean cruises and trips to numerous warm-weather locations, but this year I ended up in Michigan. Our house was filled to overflowing with relatives from all parts of the world, and it was a merry time for all. But it reminded me again that I don’t like the winter. In fact, I’ve never really liked the winter. Sorry it’s just me. I grew up in Nebraska, spent many years in Illinois, and then settled in Michigan to open up my own business, all places with full-blown, arctic winter seasons. (What was I thinking?) It wasn’t until I bought a second home in Florida that I realized that winter is not a time of punishment inflicted upon me as a penance. But alas, I reluctantly agreed to spending the holidays in Michigan this year without remembering the extent of my aversion to the cold and grey days. Now, don’t get me wrong, Michigan is a wonderful place, most of the year. It’s just that in my book Florida beats Michigan in the winter hands down. It’s not even a close race. Therefore, it’s time to resolve to spend no more winters in Michigan. It’s an official NOT TO DO now. I was so cold during the holidays this year that I couldn’t even think about my Unique Talent™. When a relative mentioned that the driveway needed a bit of snow shoveling upon returning from an errand, I quickly began giving a Unique Talent™ Seminar in my garage to change the subject but it was too cold to finish it. I love Michigan, just not in the winter, please. (I’m now catching the first flight to Florida!)

There you have it. Three things that I need to stop doing. How about creating your own list? I promise you that you are doing things that can be ignored, delegated, or transformed into something better. If you come across something that you don’t want to do anymore but you think it can’t be avoided, don’t lose heart. Maybe it will take you longer than a year to make the change but once you begin, the momentum will build.

Happy New Year!