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Aikido

I often talk with clients about Aikido, especially if they are having a bad day. Are you familiar with Aikido? It’s a martial art developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s. It’s by far my most favorite martial art but it’s really much more than a martial art, it’s a philosophy of life. The essence of the martial art Aikido is to defend yourself while also protecting anyone who may be attacking you. Seriously, the goal is to defend yourself while also protecting anyone who may be attacking you. That’s not the traditional approach, right?

What’s fascinating about Aikido is that it seeks to diffuse a problem or bad situation without hurting anyone, which should always be the primary objective. In this regard, I sometimes think of a child who is having a temper tantrum while a calm parent just hugs the child or does whatever is best to protect the child all the while knowing that everything will be okay when the child stops thrashing about and regains a bit of sanity.

We often run into people in life who are like children thrashing about and throwing their weight around. They aren’t having a good day so they want you to join them in their misery. But alas, this is a game you don’t have to play. As a mentor of mine once said to me: “Robert, never let someone else’s lack of balance affect your balance.” Doesn’t that bring to mind the old “Karate Kid” movie with Mr. Miyagi dishing out wise albeit often perplexing advice?

The truth is that it’s great advice. “Never let someone else’s lack of balance affect your balance.” That’s the kind of advice we need in difficult interactions of any kind. The natural thing to do when problems present themselves is to allow the problem to overtake you, sometimes letting the situation take control of your consciousness and stir you into one negative emotion or action after another. However, how much better would it be if you could remain calm and focused with the belief that you can handle anything that comes your way? What if you could smile, relax, and stay calm through the next storm?

Remember, it’s not if there will be a next storm, it’s simply a matter of when. Doesn’t that mean that now is an excellent time to get ready?

The common reaction of most people is to push back if pushed. But what if you were so wise that you knew when to just step out of the way?

Look up “Aikido” on Wikipedia and see if you find it as interesting and useful as I do. It’s both a martial art and a philosophy of life that allows you to protect yourself while helping others from hurting you or themselves. Trust me, it’s not easy. But with practice, you might just transform your life and the life of someone else in the process.

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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:

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“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:

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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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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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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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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 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 to see if there is something new you can observe and learn.

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Finding Your Place

Years ago, I remember Earl Nightingale relating a story about finding your place in the scheme of things. It seems that a marine biologist was working to save a group of seals that got caught in a fishing net. He was able to save all of the seals with the exception of one who turned out to be pregnant. While the marine biologist was unable to save the mother, he was able to save the baby seal who he decided to take home to give special care. The baby seal not only survived but actually thrived. In fact, the seal became something of a family pet. The seal enjoyed being with the family and took a special liking to the man’s young daughter.

The seal learned to play with balls and rings along with numerous tricks that included singing (or barking and grunting as the case may be) when the young girl would play the piano. Over time, the girl and the seal became constant companions. But the marine biologist began talking with his daughter about the seal and the fact that it would soon be time to return him to his true home, the ocean. His daughter didn’t like that idea and tended not to think about it.

But eventually, the time had come to return the seal to the ocean. The father took his young daughter and the now fully grown seal on a boat ride back to the place where the seal had been found. The girl knew it was time for the seal to go home but she was very sad about what was about to happen and tears flowed down her young face. Surprisingly, the seal didn’t seem very excited about being out on the water and nuzzled up against the girl with what looked like tears forming.

When they reached the desired location, the man and his daughter worked to help the seal into the water but the seal didn’t want to go. He kept trying to back away from the ocean but the dad and his daughter kept working to get the seal into the water. Suddenly, they were able to get the seal in the water all the while listening to barking sounds of sadness from the seal. But then something interesting happened.

As soon as the seal hit the water, he was immediately transformed from an awkward and lumbering creature on the land, into a thing of pure beauty and grace in the water. The seal realized as soon as he hit the ocean that this was the place he was meant to be. This was home. And as the girl watched him dart about the boat with style and ease, she knew it as well. Even though she knew she would miss him, she knew that he was where he was meant to be.

I often think about this story when I think about finding our place in the scheme of things. It’s not always easy to find our way in life, and sometimes it’s downright scary. But have you ever noticed how many great things in life often come from a dive into the unknown? Have you ever noticed how things that seem really scary often turn out to be just fine, and you look back and ask yourself why you were so afraid?

The seal was afraid to get back into the ocean because he had somehow forgotten that it was his home. Upon hitting the water, though, he immediately experienced how his special gifts fit perfectly with this environment. He could move through the water as if by magic. I believe we can each have the same kind of experience if we’ll have the courage to uncover our special gifts even if it means jumping into the unknown and experiencing some uncertainty to explore who we are and what we are meant to do.