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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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Studying Your Beliefs

The process uncovering and shaping your beliefs is never-ending. I think it’s a healthy and worthwhile endeavor. Have you ever taken the time to write down your beliefs so you can really study and examine them? This is one of the exercises that I do in my journal from time to time. As we grow and mature, it’s natural to question old beliefs and sometimes change or modify them.

In order to keep challenging my beliefs in an effort to improve them, I’m constantly reading what other people have to say on the subject. I have a long list of authors who have influenced me greatly. I recently came across Will Durant’s short essay titled “This I Believe” that I think you’ll enjoy reading. It’s an amazing example of how a great writer and thinker clarified his beliefs into a succinct statement. Will Durant, a highly regarded American writer, historian, and philosopher, became best known for his work “The Story of Civilization.” The groundbreaking work includes eleven volumes that were published between 1935 and 1975. Many were written in collaboration with his wife, Ariel. Will Durant also wrote many other books including his first best-seller “The Story of Philosophy” and my personal favorite, “The Lesson’s of History.” I’ve learned a great deal from his writings over the years.

The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. Below is a copy of the essay on beliefs that Will Durant wrote after a lifetime of serious study and reflection. No matter what you believe, I think you’ll find Durant’s essay worth reading and thinking about.

It’s not necessary that you believe what Will Durant chose to believe. What’s important is to decide for yourself what you believe. I have a rule that I never tell anyone else what to believe. I’d rather ask others to tell me what they believe. Then I ask them what they think the consequences will be from having those beliefs. I also love this question: Is what you believe good for you, good for others, and does it serve the greater good?

Using Will Durant’s essay as a model, create your own “This I Believe” statement. Save it and then see if it evolves over time.

* * * * *

THIS I BELIEVE

by

Will Durant

I find in the Universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order and law of the world.

I do not understand my God, and I find in nature and history many instances of apparent evil, disorder, cruelty and aimlessness. But I realize that I see these with a very limited vision and that they might appear quite otherwise from a cosmic point of view. How can an infinitesimal part of the universe understand the whole? We are drops of water trying to understand the sea.

I believe that I am the product of a natural evolution. The logic of evolution seems to compel determinism, but I cannot overcome my direct consciousness of a limited freedom of will. I believe that if I could see any form of matter from within as I can see myself through introspection, I should find in all forms of matter something akin to what in ourselves is mind and freedom. I define “virtue” as any quality that makes for survival, but as the survival of the group is more important than the survival of the average individual, the highest virtues are those that make for group survival: love, sympathy, kindliness, cooperation. If my life lived up to my ideals, I would combine the ethics of Confucius and Christ; the virtues of a developing individual with those of a member of a group.

I was a Socialist in my youth and sympathized with the Soviet regime until I visited Russia in 1932. What I saw there led me to deprecate the extension of that system to any other land. Experience and history have taught me the instinctive basis and economic necessity of competition and private property. I’m not so fanatical a worshipper of liberty as some of my radical or conservative friends; when liberty exceeds intelligence it begets chaos; which begets dictatorship. We had too much economic liberty in the later nineteenth century due to our free land and our relative exemption from external danger. We have too much moral liberty today, due to increasing wealth and diminishing religious belief. The age of liberty is ending under the pressure of external dangers; the freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole.

I do not resent the conflicts and difficulties of life. In my case, they have been far outweighed by good fortune, reasonable health, loyal friends and a happy family life. I have met so many good people that I have almost lost my faith in the wickedness of mankind.

I suspect that when I die I shall be dead. I would look upon endless existence as a curse as did the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew. Death is life’s greatest invention; perpetually replacing the worn with the new. And after twenty volumes, it will be sweet to sleep.

Source: http://will-durant.com/believe.htm

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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where medical help would be the best answer.

I’ve had clients over the years where it was clear to me the challenges they were facing ran much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. This is when self-help or life coaching may not be the right approach. Some problems require medical assistance, and  it’s important to recognize the difference and always err on the side of caution. Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. But again, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get the right medical help.

I’m especially attuned to this topic because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health challenges. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his own life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

Are you experiencing any mental health challenges that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, the sooner you get medical help the better. Remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.

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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!

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I Think, Therefore I Am

You’ve undoubtedly heard the well-known idea attributed to Rene Descartes that says “I think, therefore I exist” or “I think, therefore I am.” But what if Decartes’ famous dictum or equation doesn’t provide a complete answer?

The book entitled “Descartes’ Error” by Antonio Damasio takes on Descartes’ famous pronouncement with the idea that our feelings and emotions are much more important than ever imagined. In other words, Damasio believes that it is wrong to think that only minds think. You may want to read that statement again: It is wrong to think that only minds think. What if our feelings and emotions play a key role in the way we think and what if our feelings and emotions are actually at the core of our thinking making them required for rational decision-making? I find his hypothesis extremely fascinating.

It’s always interesting to take something that is considered an undeniable truth and then dig in deeper to see if what we’ve been told, or if what we’ve come to accept or believe, might require more analysis. Antonio Damasio’s book might change the way you think about the mind as well as how you think about thinking itself. What if our feelings and emotions are actually the most important parts of who we are and how we live? What if they are more important than our thoughts and/or what if they somehow guide our thoughts? What if feelings and emotions are actually at the root of our thinking?

I personally believe that a great deal of what we think about comes from the questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. But what if even the questions we ask ourselves are bubbling to the surface based on our feelings and emotions? This is indeed an intriquing area of study.

So if you want to stretch your mind with some interesting concepts and ideas relative to thinking and the mind, I recommend reading “Descartes’ Error.” It might change the way you view yourself and the world around you.

Just for fun, think about this for the next 30 days and see if anything changes in your life:

“I FEEL, THEREFORE I AM.”

It’s more than just a philosophical mind bender. Giving your feelings and emotions more significance might lead you to a completely different life. In fact, what if your feelings and emotions are the most intelligent part of who you are? And what if they are trying to tell you how to live a better life but you’re just not listening?

I was going to end by saying “it’s worth thinking about” but maybe it would be more accurate to say “it’s worth feeling.”

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Changing the Story of Your Life

Have you ever thought about your life as a story? My guess is that you’d benefit greatly by thinking about the story of your life, and perhaps analyzing your performance thus far. By doing this, you’ll probably be able to see for the first time what your life has really been about as well as where your life is heading. The truth of the matter is that all of us are actually writing, directing, and starring in our own story every day. We just don’t tend to think of it that way. But here’s an interesting question to consider: Would you enjoy going to the movies to see your story being acted out? Is it a good story that others would find interesting or, for that matter, would you find it interesting? Would you like how you are living your life if you were watching yourself on a movie screen?

One of my favorite pastimes is watching movies. I love a good movie. Nothing seems to have the power to carry me away like a great story brought to life on the big screen. But have you ever stopped to think that many of the stories we like the most are actually quite similar in structure? In fact, you might be surprised to learn that most successful movies are based on stories that have only a few key elements. I’ve seen academic lists of 5 elements including Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement from movie critics, and I also remember hearing someone use as many as 7 elements to analyze movies which I found more interesting because the elements used could more easily be connected with a person’s life. For our purposes, I’m going to use a rough outline of those 7 elements I once heard discussed but I’m going to change the order a bit and re-label them in an effort to help you see how powerful this concept can be when it comes to living your best possible life.

Remember, your life really is a story, or series of stories. And maybe by detaching to see your life as a moviegoer would see it, you’ll be able to see things you’ve never seen before. By viewing your life as a story, is it possible that you might discover how to make it better? How to get unstuck? How to solve your current problems? How to overcome whatever it is that’s standing between you and what it is you really want in life?

Most stories start with a person that has a desire or a wish or a goal that he or she wants to make real. We could simply label this element “The Desire.”

Let’s use the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus to bring this whole concept to life. If you haven’t seen the movie, consider watching it with this list of elements at hand. If you have seen it, consider watching it again and see if the movie’s message doesn’t affect you more once you understand the structure of the story. In Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss plays the leading role of Mr. Holland who is a man on a mission. He is a man who wants to write great music. He wants to be a world-class composer. But a story only begins with “The Desire”. What makes a story start to take shape and get us involved and engaged very quickly is the next element which we’ll call “The Problem.”

In Mr. Holland’s Opus, we quickly see that Mr. Holland has a major problem which can simply be labeled the cares of life. He needs money so he can have the free time he wants to write his opus. He needs to figure out a way to make some money. We can probably all identify with that problem on many levels. So often we have a desire to do something but it costs money. If we don’t have the money, we have a problem that needs to be solved.

But the movie also doesn’t stop there. Part of what makes any story interesting is seeing how problems are going to be overcome and Mr. Holland doesn’t disappoint us. He jumps right in to the next element of a story which we’ll call “The Plan.” Mr. Holland’s plan is simple. He is going to teach music until he can finish his great opus or symphony and, in the process, become a world-renowned composer. It’s an interesting desire with a plan to overcome his immediate problem. “The Desire” followed by “The Problem” with the introduction of “The Plan” that appears to have some merit. Isn’t it also interesting that we could probably identify these same elements in our own life? What’s your desire? What do you want to accomplish? What is your problem? What’s holding you back or standing between you and your desire? And what is your plan? Do you have a strategy to work your way through the problem or problems facing you in life?

Of course, we know that there’s always more to a great story than a desire, a problem, and a plan. If fact, if that’s all there was to Mr. Holland’s Opus, or any other movie we were watching, we’d probably be on the verge of being quite bored and getting ready to ask for our money back before we even finish our popcorn. But it’s the next element of a great story that makes things really get interesting. Let’s call this next part “The Opponents.”

Great stories have many levels of opponents and this is certainly true in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. And the job of the opponents is to do everything they can do to block “The Plan” and that’s exactly what happens to Mr. Holland. While Mr. Holland is content to do the minimum requirements as a music teacher so he has plenty of free time to compose his opus, the principal of the school has another idea. She doesn’t want Mr. Holland sneaking out early when there are students that need additional help. And we quickly see that Mr. Holland is confronted by a whole host of students that don’t appear to have a lick of musical talent yet he is expected to teach them. Let’s label all of these opponents, external opponents.

Getting back to your story, do you have any opponents? People that are holding you back? You might right now be making a list in your mind. What makes Mr. Holland’s Opus so interesting is the fact that he doesn’t just have one opponent but a number of opponents. I’ve heard people categorize opponents into three areas including external, internal, and intimate. The external opponents are easy to see. For Mr. Holland, we already discussed the principal and students but there were also others if you watch the movie and think about this a bit.

For example, what about the internal opponent that we all face? In the movie, we can see Mr. Holland conflicted about what to do just as we so often are with the choices we face in life. Mr. Holland wants to get his opus written and become a world-class composer, but he also wants to do right thing for the students that have been entrusted to him. And if that’s not enough, the movie quickly shows us that there are two key intimate opponents. Mr. Holland and his wife are blessed with the birth of a son but it is quickly discovered that the son is deaf. Imagine being a musician where hearing is everything to you and now you are presented with a child that cannot hear. Mr. Holland and his wife now have a son that is going to require a great deal of additional time to raise. I suppose you could say that this is how the plot thickens as Mr. Holland has to deal with some pretty challenging intimate family relationships which can be seen as opponents to Mr. Holland’s desire or goal.

Can you identify with the idea of external, internal, and intimate opponents in your life? It’s not unusual that the biggest part of a movie, or the story of your life, to get caught up in the drama of dealing with opponents. In fact, as the opponents become more and more clear, we could say that the next phase of the story is rather obvious and is often simply called “The Battle.”

Rarely do opponents just cave in without a conflict. And it’s often this struggle with various opponents that connects us to a story. There might now be a chase scene or a toe-to-toe fight between the good guy and the bad guy that is almost cliché in movies, but there has to be some form of what might be called conflict resolution. In other words, how is this story going to turn out? What’s going to happen? Is Mr. Holland going to write his opus? How is he going to deal with the challenges with his wife and the fact that he now has a deaf son that needs special care? And how might Mr. Holland’s story of overcoming challenges relate to you? How are you going to overcome your problems and deal with your opponents?

I find that most people get stuck in the battle phase of their own personal stories. Isn’t that true? Talk with someone about their life and see what they talk about? More often than not, it’s the challenges. Of course, there’s nothing in and of itself that is bad about that unless you get stuck in your battle. But at some point, you have to do what all great movies do, you have to move beyond the battle. Although let’s face it, battle scenes can make a movie! But what’s next? Don’t things need to get resolved?

So how are things going to get resolved? It wasn’t easy for Mr. Holland. He had to learn to deal with his external opponents by making decisions about what was most important and setting new priorities. But, of course, this required battling himself from the standpoint of what to do about writing that opus that he thought was so important. And his wife wasn’t going to allow him to avoid his son or not develop the kind of relationship that he was capable of having even though his son was deaf. None of this was easy but watching him deal with all of this makes the story really come alive.

My apologies in advance for giving away the ending to the movie but I just can’t help myself. At the end of Mr. Holland’s career as a music teacher, he finds himself looking back on what he’s accomplished, or as he sees it, not accomplished with a sense of failure. The one thing that he set out to do — i.e., become a world-class composer — hasn’t happened. And what’s worse, the music program is now in jeopardy of being cancelled because of a lack of funding. As Mr. Holland clears out his desk with his wife and son accompanying him, he hears something going on in the auditorium of the school. Of course, his wife and son know exactly what is going on. As Mr. Holland gets to the auditorium and opens the door, he sees it’s filled with past and present students. Hundreds of people that have been touched by him and his gifts as a music teacher, and they are there to thank him for his life’s work.

Interestingly, an early clarinet student who was just one of the many students touched by Mr. Holland’s unique gifts as a teacher, had become Governor of the State, and she was now serving as the master of ceremonies for this special surprise event. During her speech, she says something that brings what we’ll call “The Resolution” clearly into focus. She says these words:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

Mr. Holland breaks down in tears as this point and finally understands what his life has been about up to that point. He has clarity. He understands something he didn’t understand before. He has resolution which opens things up for the final part of any great story or movie, “The Celebration.” In this case, Mr. Holland gets to hear what he has composed being performed by his students. There is much more to the movie than I’ve outlined here, but you probably get the idea. Mr. Holland is not a failure, he has discovered a greater success than he would have ever imagined for himself through the lives he has touched. He never realized until this moment that he had such an amazing teaching gift, and he certainly never realized the extent to which that gift had reached out into the world and really touched me people so deeply and profoundly.

And this brings us back to you. What about your life and your story? Where are you in the process of your story? Are you stuck dealing with an opponent? Have you been spending too many years in a battle? Are you learning that maybe the desire you started out with isn’t the best one for you and there is something much better?

More importantly, how do you want your story to end?

Or how about this? Nowhere is it written that you can have only one story. Maybe the present story you are living needs “The Resolution” and “The Celebration” so you can create a new story. As the credits rolled for Mr. Holland’s Opus, I found myself thinking that instead of retiring, Mr. Holland had plenty of time to become a composer if he still wanted to pursue that dream. But I also found myself thinking that sometimes what we get is better for us than what we might have wanted in the first place. Life is interesting that way. Sometimes we don’t get what we want but we get what we need.

Maybe a fresh look at your life and the story you are living could give you a new perspective. How about viewing your life as a story and seeing where that leads you. Just take the 7 elements we’ve discussed and apply them to your life thus far.

THE DESIRE
Is what you have been chasing really want you want? Is “The Desire” the right one for you?

THE PROBLEM
Are the problems you are facing really that bad or are they serving you in some way? Is “The Problem” holding you back or getting you to grow?

THE PLAN
Is your plan producing good results or do you need a different approach? Does “The Plan” appear to be working or is it time to consider another strategy?

THE OPPONENTS
What about those people that you view as opponents? Are “The Opponents” maybe your greatest gift because they are forcing you to grow?

THE BATTLE
Are you stuck in a battle that maybe it’s time to resolve? Is it time to realize that you can end “The Battle” at any time that you wish?

THE RESOLUTION
And finally, what lesson is life trying to teach you? Often all you need to resolve a situation is a new level of understanding which can come at any time. “The Resolution” just needs you to recognize the lesson so you can move on to that last element.

THE CELEBRATION
Whatever you do, don’t forget “The Celebration.” It’s like the icing on the cake. But do me a favor. No matter where you are in your current story, remember that you don’t have to wait until the end of it to have a party. Make your whole life a celebration. I think you’ll find it’s more fun that way.

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Have you ever read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell? He is the same author that wrote “Tipping Point” and “Blink” among others. I was recently having dinner with a friend and he mentioned the book “Outliers” that I originally read when it first appeared on the scene in 2008. We had a fun conversation discussing the book.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. After our dinner conversation, I decided to reread the book which is often a great idea if you are dealing with a book of substance. Gladwell’s book certainly qualifies in that regard.

Gladwell’s position in “Outliers” can be summed up with this statement: Success and failure are often not the result of what seems obvious at first glance.

I really like this idea. After literally decades in the personal development industry, I can tell you that a lot of what is taught is not only wrong but utter nonsense. There is always more to success (and failure) than meets the eye. I’m not going to spoil “Outliers” in case you haven’t read it, but I will give you a couple of my favorite points as well as something that I think would improve the book. (To get the most out of a book, it’s helpful if you don’t assume that everything an author says is correct. It’s always better to have a healthy skepticism that allows you to debate the points based on your own knowledge and experience.)

One of the people Gladwell discusses in the book is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He writes about how most people credit his success to his amazing intelligence. And while it’s certainly true that Gates was gifted with the raw material for high level thinking and analysis, he also was the recipient of many other benefits that aren’t usually mentioned. For example, he came from a wealthy family where education was held in high regard. He was born at just the right time for the computer revolution. And perhaps one of the greatest benefits he received was access to state of the art computers at a time when they were quite rare.

Gladwell did an outstanding job of looking into the many factors that influenced the enormous success of Bill Gates. Certainly, Bill Gates gets a lot of the credit for his achievements but he can’t claim all of the credit. In fact, had certain factors not been present, he may still have been successful on some level but certainly not into the billions and billions. That kind of success, which Gladwell labels an “Outlier” or way out of the norm, requires a mix of factors that more often than not requires just plain good fortune or luck.

Many people that study personal development or success, don’t like the idea of luck. They want to control everything. Even one of my early mentors Earl Nightingale would often say: “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In some ways, I think Earl used to think that you could control opportunity by getting prepared but that’s not always the case. You can certainly influence opportunity and/or be ready for when it appears, but you often can’t control it. Great opportunities often resist being forced or controlled. What I like to say is that many of the doors in life that lead to opportunity can only be opened for you by someone else.

Luckily, there is plenty of good fortune around if we will prepare ourselves for recognizing it when it does appear, but trying to control everything isn’t going to be a winning strategy. The people that think they can control everything usually end up old before their time because of the unnecessary stress and anxiety their approach to the world has brought about.

It’s good to remember that there are things outside of our control. It is possible to be a part of what one writer called “The Lucky Sperm Club.” Yet if you live in the United States it might not be a bad idea to conclude that you’ve already won the “Lucky Sperm” lottery. Not that there aren’t other great places to live on planet earth but it’s hard to beat the opportunities that have resulted from the combined brainpower of our Founding Fathers. I sometimes wish they were still around to keep us on track, but that’s not the case. It’s now up to us to keep freedom and opportunity alive.

Getting back to Gladwell’s book, there is one concept that I liked very much that has actually been presented by others. Gladwell calls it “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically states that extraordinary success usually doesn’t happen for someone until he or she puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Bill Gates was able to work on programming high-end computers for 10,000 hours before most people knew anything about what these computers were capable of. That put him in an enviable position. It’s the kind of advantage that is hard to compete with if you don’t have it. Those doors were opened for him.

Yet here’s the thing that I believe Gladwell doesn’t recognize clearly enough. Bill Gates had just the right mind and temperament for this kind of work. In other words, Bill Gates had a Unique Talent that he was helped to develop. If he would not have had that talent, the opportunity would not have been as valuable.

It’s no different than someone like Mozart whose first words were “G sharp” at age two. Seriously, age two! Supposedly the little guy heard a pig squealing and exclaimed “G sharp.” When his father ran to the piano to check, he discovered the little guy was right. Now that’s a Unique Talent!

But recognize that Mozart’s dad was a musician and could appreciate this kind of talent and helped the little guy develop it to the fullest. Little Mozart wrote his first piece of music at age 4 but who but a musician parent would even recognize such scribbles or be able to help him develop his gifts to the fullest?

Mozart’s father got him the best education available at the time and got the little prodigy performing throughout Europe. But this is worth remembering. We don’t remember Mozart for his early compositions or performances. What we remember is what happened after Mozart put in his 10,000 hours. That’s when he became a genius unlike the world had ever seen. After his 10,000 hours he began creating music that will surely live on forever. So even Mozart had to put in the time.

It’s not unlike Tiger Wood’s dad recognizing that his son could hit a golf ball wherever he wanted it to go. No doubt Tiger had an incredible Unique Talent but it was his dad that spotted it early and helped him to develop it to the fullest.

So allow me to suggest a new success formula:

SUCCESS = UNIQUE TALENT + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

It’s up to you to find your Unique Talent and start practicing it. This is especially true if you weren’t lucky enough to have a dad who spotted your Unique Talent at age 2. I certainly wasn’t. I was undoubtedly just drooling on myself at age 2.

But luckily it’s never too late with Unique Talent. The chances are excellent that the right opportunity will come your way if you do your part. It’s not guaranteed, but the odds are in your favor, unlike the Mega Millions State Lottery. Besides, you can’t lose by focusing on your Unique Talent. It’s what you are meant to do, and the best rewards in life always come from doing what you are meant to do.

We all have a song to sing or a book to write or a company to start or a child to raise or a foundation to launch or some other noble thing that only we can do. Your exact genetic make up has never before appeared on planet earth with the exact environment that exists right now. Take advantage of it while you can. It’s a mistake not to. There is no better way to enjoy your ride on this beautiful blue island in space.

Here’s the formula you want to avoid:

FAILURE = INCOMPETENCE + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

Maybe we shouldn’t label that failure but it certainly can be called “Nose to the Grindstone Living.” There is a better way. You have a Unique Talent that you can use in the service to others and become extraordinary in your own right. Now’s the time to take action.

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How to Break an Unwanted Habit

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to break old habits? How about this question: How are our habits formed and what causes them to repeat themselves over and over again? While our knowledge is still woefully incomplete when it comes to the human brain, we know more today than at any other time in history.

Consider, for example, a part of our brain called the basal ganglia. While there is much we don’t know about this tiny little organ buried in our brain, we are starting to learn more about how this part of our brain functions relative to forming and executing habits. It has been consistently demonstrated that procedural learning and routine behaviors are run by this part of the brain.

We’ve learned that the basal ganglia operates to provide us with shortcuts to accomplish tasks so that we don’t have to start our thinking from scratch every time we perform an action or think through every little detail. Instead, this part of our brain remembers tasks to help us perform with less effort. So once you’ve done something a few times, the basal ganglia stores the actions which allows the execution to be automatic without you having to think about it.

The trouble lies in the fact that we forget about how a number of unwanted habits were formed in the first place. This can make it challenging to change habits unless we know how to rewire the various automatic programs that have become stored in the basal ganglia. Some researchers now call these programs “Habit Loops.” Again, the challenge is that these habit loops typically run without any conscious knowledge.

Yet if we breakdown how these habit loops are formed, we can alter them to create more desirable habits. Here is the essence of how a habit is formed:

1. A need, desire, or craving exists that you want to fulfill.

2. A trigger, stimuli, or cue initiates a specific habit program that has fulfilled this desire in the past.

3. A routine, set of actions, or behaviors is automatically performed in order to satisfy your craving as quickly as possible.

4. A reward or benefit is provided which serves to further strengthen the habit and keep the cycle spinning.

In essence, a loop program runs when it’s executed and continues to run as long as a reward is in place to keep it running. And since these habit loops serve deeply held needs or cravings of one kind or another, we can easily become trapped by habits unless we learn how to change them or establish new ones.

Remember Samuel Johnson’s famous quote: “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” While there is great truth is this quote, it shouldn’t discourage you from changing unwanted habits. The chains of a habit can be broken!

Indeed, a habit can be rewired. The question is how?

First of all, remind yourself that your habit has four parts as previously discussed including the craving, trigger, routine, and reward. This means you need to examine each element of a habit so you can begin the rewiring process. So ask yourself these four questions to uncover what’s driving your habit:

1. What desire, need, or craving am I trying to fulfill?

2. What triggers, stimuli, or cues remind me of my desire or need or craving?

3. What automatic routine, behavior, or set of actions am I performing without even thinking about it?

4. What reward am I experiencing from this habit?

Once you’ve answered those four questions, you are ready to attack the habit head on using the following four questions:

1. What is the best way to satisfy my desire, need, or craving?

2. What do I need to remember when the cue or trigger for the craving presents itself?

3. What new behavior, action, or routine would better serve me?

4. How can I reward myself at an even higher level than the old reward?

Consider the problem of overeating or eating the wrong things. It starts with the desire, need, or craving we all share for food. This craving is not going away because we have to eat to survive. The question is what program are you running to fulfill this need? When you are triggered by natural feelings of hunger, do you reach for a candy bar or an apple? You’ll get a reward from eating anything that you enjoy but the question is what have you trained yourself to enjoy, a candy bar or an apple? The difference between the two is huge.

Here’s another example, take the need for certainty that we all share. Without some predictability in our environment, it’s difficult to even function in life. But the question is how to fulfill your need for certainly? Are you fulfilling your need in a way that’s good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good?

Consider someone who desires certainty. The focus becomes one of trying to control things in the world that could take away control. It might look like this:

1. CRAVING = Certainty (You want to be in total control of your life.)

2. TRIGGER = Something from the environment looks like it will take away your control. (A stock market crash would dramatically change your net worth.)

3. ROUTINE = You sense some danger in the world which alerts you of the need to respond which might even include activating your “fight or flight response” if the danger seems serious enough. (You become tense and agitated by news that the economy and stock market are on the verge of collapse so you start thinking about changes you might need to make to your portfolio.)

4. REWARD = You feel a sense of relief if you can come up with a solution. (You develop a diversified portfolio that takes into consideration all of the things that can happen including inflation, deflation, prosperity, or crash. However, the fact of the matter is that you can’t control the stock market so even with an intelligent plan you become stuck in the loop of trying to solve something you can’t ultimately control. You can become so stuck that eventually this pattern leads you to depression, anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. In fact, the OCD causes you to keep running this loop endlessly until a full-blown panic attack completely immobilizes you.)

So what’s the solution? You need a new habit loop or habit program.

Here’s an example of new code or programming you could install into your current habit loop:

1. CRAVING = Certainty

2. TRIGGER = Something from the environment looks like it will take away my control.

3. ROUTINE = You need to think clearly and rationally about the perceived problem and decide if it’s something you can control or influence. This involves adding a new “If-Then-Else Statement” in the code which goes something like this: “If I can control or influence the situation, then execute the solution. If I can’t control or influence the situation, then execute the else part of the program which means I need to relax and let it be.”

4. REWARD = You transform the energy of the “fight or flight response” with the corresponding hormones into positive energy for action or peaceful energy for relaxation.

After testing this new code for a few days or weeks, you’ll discover that it allows you to control the things that are in your power to control while accepting the things that are outside of your power to control. You then continue running this new code until it completely replaces the old habit loop so that your basal ganglia will now run the new habit for you automatically.

So think about the habit loops running in your life that perhaps need to be tweaked, altered, or completely rewritten.

If you’d like some help breaking an unwanted habit, consider signing up for a FREE coaching session to uncover your current program and then get the help you need to create some better code.