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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 professional help would be the best answer.

I’ve had many clients over the years where it was clear to me that some of the issues they were dealing with were not in my wheelhouse or circle of competence. I’m not a doctor nor have I had any kind of medical training, yet clients have asked me about issues that run 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. The list goes on and on, but what if medical guidance is necessary? What if your underlying chemistry is such that no amount of effort on your part is going to fix your problem? 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. However, I’ve learned that 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 some professional help. I’ve gone so far as to fire clients that didn’t want to seek professional help if I believed there was even the slightest possibility of clinical depression.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive in this matter because I have 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 issues. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his 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.

My own DNA has provided me with more faulty wiring and circuitry than I’d ever care to admit. Have I experienced depression and anxiety to a high degree? Yes. Have I tried to fix it myself? Yes. Has it worked? No. I wouldn’t be writing this blog or doing anything else for that matter if it were not for the ongoing help and support of my amazing family and friends along with some incredible doctors.

Are you experiencing any issues 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, I’d say the sooner you get professional help the better. I’m still happy to work with you or help you in any way that I can, but 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 begin with DNA being shaped by your environment but you eventually starting 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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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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The Best Day of Your Life

Some 4,500 years ago, an Indian poet named Kalidasa wrote a poem that would be worth reading at the start of every day. There are a few different translations of this poem from the original Sanskrit so I’ve taken the liberty to review a number of them in order to come up with one I think you will really enjoy.

* * * * *
Look well to this one day:
For it and it alone is life.
In the brief course of this one day
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of achievement,
Are but experiences of time.

Remember that yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision.
Yet today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this one day;
For it and it alone is life.

Kalidasa

* * * * *

There are many stories and legends about Kalidasa but my favorite is the one that tells of how he came to be so wise. According to the story, Kalidasa wasn’t always wise or even well thought of. He was actually considered to be one of the stupidest people in the kingdom when he was young. He was often ridiculed for his lack of intelligence which left him so dejected that he considered taking his own life.

One day, while wandering aimlessly and contemplating how he would take his own life, he came to a river and noticed some women washing clothes. He observed that some of the stones that the woman where using to wash clothes had become very smooth over time even though they originally had rough surfaces. The hard rocks had actually changed shape by being worn down by soft clothes. It dawned on him that if rocks could be worn and change their shape by the ongoing washing of clothes, then why couldn’t his hard, thick brain change by being washed with knowledge!

He immediately began studying, and it worked. This one simple observation changed his life. Through his studying, or washing his mind with knowledge, he became universally revered for his great wisdom not only in his time but literally thousands of years later.

So I guess the moral of the story is twofold. First, remember that today is the best day you are going to get so live it to the fullest. As Kalidasa learned, “… yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision.” Second, while enjoying the best day of your life, look around see if there is something new you can observe and learn.

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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.