Sunday, June 23, 2013

What you believe matters...a lot

Recently, I've noticed quite a few people on Facebook sharing a quote sometimes attributed to David Orr.  It goes something like this:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it."

It is also attributed to the Dalai Lama.  In that attribution, it seems to normally go like this:

"The planet does not need more 'successful people'. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with success as our culture is the set." 

I believe the frequency with which we see this quote indicates a problem with how people perceive success in our culture.  I have friends who define success solely in terms of money and finances.  Interestingly, these are the friends who seem most likely to be engaged in a long-term struggle to keep their heads above water.  Those who truly define success otherwise, while not viewing financial security as inherently evil, are on the whole far more financially secure.  I believe there is a clue here.

First, success is about a whole lot more than finances.  "Success is the progressive realization of a worthwhile goal or ideal" was Napoleon Hill's definition.  Many life and executive coaches use this definition.  Notice that it doesn't mention finances at all.  It remains the best I've ever heard or read.

Second, while success involves far more than finances, there is one very good thing about using financial stability as a kind of gauge.  Money is very easy to count.  Thus, it's pretty easy to tell if a person has his or her financial house in order.  If it's not in order, there is, I believe, a pretty good chance that other areas of life will also be out of order.

Third, no success, including financial success, can be built around an obsession with money.  I've never met anyone obsessed with money who couldn't have achieved and become more in every area of life if he or she hadn't been so consumed with making more money.

Fourth, what the world does not need, is more people who deny the reality, desirability and "achievability" of success.  We have more than enough of those running around, doing their best to convince everyone else to adopt their hopeless and negative view of life.  Their beliefs about success inhibit their ability to experience and enjoy what life has to offer and are toxic to those looking for a way to truly change things.

Fifth and finally, this leads me to a conclusion.  The world does need more successful people, and desperately so.  It needs people who are actively engaged in the progressive realization of  worthwhile goals and ideals.  It needs people who are constantly striving:
  • to improve themselves
  • to improve their situation, and
  • to positively impact every situation and everyone they meet in meaningful ways
If you're ready to become one of those people, if you're ready to begin experiencing the progressive realization of worthwhile goals and ideals, welcome aboard.

Change your mind...change your life.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Okay, I'm responsible for this mess. Now what?

I said in an earlier post that the accepting both responsibility and accountability for my choices is the path to freedom in this life. Some people have questioned that statement, so let me explain.  Once I accept that what I believe, think, feel and do are all choices I get to make, then changing my life becomes a matter of changing my choices.  That's a pretty good definition of freedom!  I could have chosen differently and I still can.  All I have to do to change things is change my choices. Perhaps I made bad ones in the past (David Byrd calls them "ineffective choices" which is a pretty good term) and they led me to where I am.  It follows that if I make good ones, consistently, from this point on, they'll most likely lead me someplace different...and better. Thus, freedom comes from embracing responsibility and accountability.  Now, some people want to embrace the idea of  responsibility and accountability but not the reality.  That won't work.  If you do that you're just another person walking around parroting what sounds good until you encounter what you think is the next "cool idea" at which time you'll change and start parroting that one.  No, you have to actually, in a very real and practical way accept that you are where you are because of you and your choices.  You are responsible for your mess, just like I'm responsible for mine.

So, what comes next?  I have to learn to make better choices.  If we use Byrd's term, what makes a choice an "effective" one?  What's the difference between effective and ineffective choices?  Those are good questions, aren't they?  After all, if I know that my choices so far have taken me somewhere I don't want to be, it would be good to know what made them ineffective so I can avoid similar choices in the future.  How do I avoid ineffective choices in favor of effective ones?

Good or effective choices are those that tend to move me in the direction of my goals (you have your goals written down and look at them daily, right?).  Ineffective choices are those that either don't move me in that direction or that move me away from my goals.  So, I look at my goals and compare them to the choices I make every day.  If they don't move me toward my goals, they are not effective choices and I need to make other choices instead.  Now, because none of us are one dimensional we have to make choices about different areas of our lives, so we need goals for those areas to provide clarity about the kinds of choices we need to make.

That's it.  That's what we do once we accept responsibility and accountability for our lives and the choices that got us there.  Now, there's a lot more to say about how to make more effective choices, but that's for later.

Change your mind...change your life.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Power and Responsibility

It took me a long time to understand the power of what I want to talk about, today, and that's the amazing power of choice. See, for a long time I gave “lip service” to the idea that each of us, especially me, had the ability to make the choices that determine where we wind up in life without really understanding just how powerful that ability is. Oh, I talked a good fight, but when it came down to the nitty gritty I'd try to have it both ways. I'd want to choose...and I'd want to avoid being responsible and accountable for my decisions and their results. I was uncomfortable with that degree of responsibility. As a result, I'd sometimes make ineffective decisions (that is, decisions that didn't move me in the direction I wanted to go) and then want to blame the results on factors or things outside of myself. What I didn't understand were two very basic and simple truths:

  • First, freedom, real freedom, comes from embracing responsibility and accountability and
  • Second, it is the ability to choose that makes responsibility and accountability so powerful

For a long time I wandered around, looking pretty successful, but not really living the life I wanted and deserved. I'd like to think I'm unique in this regard, but I know I'm not. Almost every day I meet people who try to be free by avoiding responsibility and accountability. As a result, they spend their lives as slaves to other people and their own bad habits. They don't understand how their choices have gotten them to where they are right now, or how better choices can change that dramatically.

There's this old good news/bad news joke about our ability to make decisions. God is talking with Adam...

God: I've got some good news and some bad news for you, Adam.
Adam: Well, what's the good news?
God: You have free will.
Adam: Okay. Ah, what's the bad news?
God: You have free will.

That's really the way it is. The ability to make decisions, the ability to choose, is what sets us apart from animals. Jim Rohn often asked his audiences the question “Why does a goose fly south in the winter?” The very simple answer that people often missed is “Because he's a goose.” Simple, right? “Driven by instinct and the genetic code” a goose doesn't get to decide if he's going to fly south in the winter or not. It's what geese do in winter. On the other hand, none of us are geese. We can and do choose what we do. Think about it. Everything we do is a choice. The statement “I did (insert the action of your choice), but I didn't really have a choice.” That's not true. There is always a choice. Now, the other side of this is that there are consequences to my choices. Still, there is always a choice.

So, we all get to choose. We get to choose what we believe, we get to choose how we feel, we get to choose what we think and we get to choose what we do. Once I realize that I get to choose these things I have some decisions to make.

  • What will I choose to believe?
  • What will I choose to think?
  • How will I choose to feel?
  • What will I choose to do?

None of these are independent of the others. That means that as I change one, that change tends to affect the others. You may notice that when I made the bullet list I changed the order a little. That's because I am convinced that what I choose to believe and think underlies all my other choices. Often, we try to change our lives by simply focusing on what we do. “If I change what I do, things will be different” is how the thought goes. Well, maybe so, but probably not. The problem is that it's hard to change what I do if I don't change the thoughts, ideas, beliefs and feelings that drive the behavior I'm trying to change. In fact, if I don't change my beliefs, thinking and feelings first, it's almost a guarantee I'll fail in my efforts to change my behavior. Which brings me back to choice. I have to choose to replace the beliefs, thoughts and feelings that are producing ineffective choices about what I do with those that will help me make effective choices. Now, I can refuse to choose, but others noted long ago that refusing to choose is a choice.

Okay, fine. I have to choose. Choice is power. Yada, yada... Is that it?

No, it's not. To really experience, in a positive way, the power of choice I have to accept absolute and total responsibility for every choice I've made. This isn't a thing to which I can just respond with an “okay, sure.” Think about it. Wherever I am in my life, however I'm living, whatever my circumstances are, it's all because of decisions I have made. It's all my responsibility. My job, career or business? My responsibility. My relationships? My responsibility. My marriage, family, friendships, finances, spiritual life, education, health (with a few exceptions), where I live, what I drive, how I dress, what's in my refrigerator, the condition of my car...all my responsibility. I made one or more decisions that resulted in each of these being the way they are. No one made me choose the way I did. I exercised free will (remember the joke?) and made choices. They may have been good choices, they may have been bad choices. They may have even been the best choices given the circumstances under which they were made. They were still my choices. Until I accept that it's my freely made choices that got me to where I am, I will never be free. Until I accept complete responsibility for all my choices I will remain a slave to other people and my own habits.

Blaming others for my life may be appealing, but it gives away my power to change things by changing myself. It does that by saying that others have controlled the only thing in this universe over which I have any control at all. I can't control other people, try though I might. I can't control the environment, the marketplace, the economy or politics or social institutions. All I can control is me. The only real hope I have of living the life I want, whatever that life is, is to insist on controlling the one thing I can control. Why on earth would I want to give away that power? So I can avoid the very responsibility that can set me free? So I can dodge the accountability that will help me do what I need to do?

Why am I spending so much time talking about this stuff? After all, it's not like there haven't been people talking about the same things for literally thousands of years. It's simple, really. I didn't really start to learn these things in a significant and life changing way until I was in my mid-forties. That means I was around for four decades before I started to really learn these things. I literally spent decades living life without really understanding what was going on! How much different would my life have been if I had understood? Once I started learning and making changes in myself, my life started to change. Now, I would never go back to my old life of not knowing and not understanding. I will never again give up the only power I have. And I will not simply sit idly by and watch other people spend their lives in “quiet desperation” when I have some ability, however small, to offer an alternative.

So, what about you? Are you ready to accept responsibility and accountability for your life and your decisions? Are you ready to change what must be changed for you to have the life you want and deserve? If you are, stick with me. It's going to be interesting.

Change your mind...change your life.

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 3, 2013

It's only humorous when kids do it

If you're a parent, you have probably had a conversation like this:

Parent: "How did this happen?"
Child: "Well, I was putting up my toys like you told me to and then my room got all messy."
Parent: "How did it get messy?"
Child: "I was putting up my toys like you told me to...and then Tommy started getting out my toys, again."
Parent: "Did you ask Tommy to stop getting out your toys?"
Child: "No."
Parent: "Why didn't you ask Tommy to stop getting out your toys?"
Child: "Because."
Parent: "Because, why?"
Child:  "Because we were playing with them."
Parent: "Do you remember why I asked you to put up your toys?"
Child: "No!"
Parent: "I asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo. Why were you playing with them when I had asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo?"
Child: "You told me I should share my toys!"
Parent: "I have told you to share your toys. Today, I asked you to put them up so we could go to the zoo. Now, we have to stay home and clean up your room instead of going to the zoo."
Child: "You mean I can't go to the zoo?"
Parent: "Not today, I'm afraid."
Child: "Why not!?"
Parent: "Because you decided to keep playing instead of putting your toys away."
Child: "No, I didn't!"
Parent: "Yes, you did."
Child: "Tommy started it!"
Parent: "Then you should have come to get me."
Child: "You wouldn't have done anything!"
Parent: "Of course I would have. I'd have told Tommy he needed to help you clean up if he wanted to go to the zoo with us. If he wouldn't do it, I'd have sent him home."
Child: "You were busy."
Parent: "I was in my office checking my email. I even told you where I was going to be if you needed anything."
Child: "Can we go to the zoo or not?"
Parent: "No, we can't. You decided to play and get out more toys instead of straightening up like I asked, so now we have to get an even bigger mess put away."
Child: "See? I knew we weren't going to go."
Parent: "We aren't going because of your decision. Do you understand?"
Child: "I didn't decide anything!"
Parent: "You decided to play instead of straightening up."
Child: "Yeah. But if you had said we could go yesterday like I wanted instead of today we could have gone."
Parent: "I had to work yesterday. Remember? That's why we were going today."
Child: "You always have to work when I want to do something. You don't want to do anything with me."
Parent: "I love doing stuff with you and I do stuff with you as much as I can. I work because providing for you is my responsibility."
Child: "You don't know what it's like being me..."

If you're like me, once you get past the initial frustration, these conversations are kind of humorous. After all, we can all recall when we were kids and reasoned like that, can't we? You remember how it was. Nothing was ever our fault (I don't like that word, but I'll use it here. As a rule, fault finding is a waste of time and energy), was it? I know that in my case there was always a reason things went awry. That reason just never had anything to do with the decisions I made, of course. I was good at placing the responsibility squarely onto someone else. Even when faced with the irrefutable proof of my responsibility, I'd admit it...and deny it, almost all in the same breath. If pinned down, I'd shift my position. But, I'd always try to avoid accepting responsibility for my actions. Until they are taught otherwise, that's what kids do. And, like I said, after the initial frustration, it can be humorous.

If you've ever wondered if this kind of behavior from your kid(s) is normal, rest assured, it is. Kids are born with no responsibility. As babies, they depend entirely upon someone else to care for them. As they get older, they become capable of doing more, but there's still a lot they can't do. In addition, kids are, by nature, egocentric. In real practical language, that means they think the universe revolves around them. It's all about them and their wants and needs (and kids have trouble distinguishing between the two). So, they want what they want, when they want it. They are all about immediate gratification. Do they grow out of it? Yes. If they learn otherwise. Accepting responsibility and accountability is taught by:

  1. Direct teaching (telling them)
  2. Rewarding responsible behavior and consequences for not being responsible
  3. Modeling the desired behavior.
The conversation above doesn't illustrate it perfectly, but most of the elements are there.

When adults do this, it's not humorous. It can be sad, annoying, frustrating and irritating, but it's never funny. There are a lot of adults that have never learned to accept responsibility and accountability. I've seen it more times than I can count. The topics are different than putting up toys, usually, but the efforts to avoid responsibility are the same. Years ago, I provided counseling in drug and alcohol rehab. Here's a fairly typical conversation with a client who has been resistant to the plan of care in rehab:

Counselor: "Do you want to get sober?"
Client: "Of course I do!"
Counselor: "Then you have to follow the plan of care."
Client: "I know. Do you know why I drink?"
Counselor: "Yes, I do."
Client: "I drink because of all the stuff I have to deal with." *gives list of said "stuff"*
Counselor: "No. That is not why you drink."
Client: "Oh, yeah? Then why do I do it?"
Counselor: "You drink because you are an alcoholic."
Client: "You don't know what it's like, how hard it is being an alcoholic. If you did you'd be easier on me."
Counselor: "You're right. I do not know what it's like being an alcoholic. What I do know about, is how to live life without alcohol."

I'm sure you can see how similar the two conversations are. It's not limited to drug and alcohol abuse, though. I've had the same conversations with people who've landed in legal trouble because they deliberately and knowingly set out to do something that was not only illegal, but that they had been specifically warned by law enforcement (and others) not to do. When complaining about their fate, they kept coming back to the role of other people. If this person hadn't done this or if this person had done that, or if law enforcement wasn't out to get me, I wouldn't be in this situation is how the argument goes. When reminded of their actions and responsibility they admit it...and with the next breath return to blaming anyone and everyone else.

The same type of logic applies to people who have messed up their lives in other ways, too. Relationships, employment, academics, finances, any area of life, there are those who will consistently blame their misfortunes on others. In virtually every case I've encountered, those arguments have been false.

Here's the deal. Wherever you are in life, your life is the way it is because of the decisions you've made up to this point. It's true for you, me and everyone else. It can be an uncomfortable truth to accept, but it's true anyway. Every decision I've made has contributed to my being where I am right now. Looking back, I can see that very clearly. Had I made different decisions, I'd very likely be in a different place. The same is true for you. There are two major parts to this. We've sort of talked about the first one, but I'll list them both.

  1. I have to accept responsibility for the decisions I've made
  2. I have to learn to make better decisions

See, if bad decisions have brought me to where I am right now, I need to accept the fact that I made those decisions so I can learn to make better ones and end up somewhere much better. The same thing is true if I've made pretty good decisions. If I accept that my decisions could be better and then learn to make even better ones, I can wind up somewhere better than where I am right now. Tell me that's not good news.

It's all part of changing your mind...and changing your life.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

New Blog

Why a blog that focuses on personal growth and development?

Personal development for growth and change was relatively unknown to me for a long time. I say "relatively" because I had heard a little about what were usually called "motivational" books and speakers. Usually, they were referred to derisively. The people of my parent's generation, at least the ones I knew, looked upon the personal development industry (or whatever it was called back then) as being less than worthy of respect. Meaningless fluff would be a kind description of how they tended to view it. In part, this was because of people they knew who had taken some personal development course(s) and tried to use what they had learned for manipulation rather than for real personal growth. Graduates of Dale Carnegie courses had the reputation of being particularly prone to such manipulation.

I believe another big factor in the view these people had of personal development was that most of them were Depression era folks. So, for them, hard work was essential to being able to eat, but they saw no way of increasing the value of the work they did. Minus the Depression era work ethic, this view remains to this day. Most people see no way of increasing the value of the work they do or of increasing their value.

Finally, much of personal development focuses on financial issues and my parents and many of their contemporaries had a tendency to look at the financially successful with some suspicion. There was this often unspoken but ever present belief that someone who had earned a significant amount of money must be either dishonest or "lucky". So, anything that suggested it could help a person become financially successful was immediately suspect. This view, too, remains largely present up to right now.

There were two big factors that brought me face to face with the reality of personal development. The first was my time as a military officer. The Navy places a big emphasis on leadership development. While many, perhaps most, of the graduates of military leadership training courses see only techniques to be used for career advancement, those courses still provide exposure to the idea of constant individual growth. So, you could say I was sort of set up for what followed. The second factor was my initial foray into small business. I was fortunate to be involved with people who were not only successful in multiple areas of their lives, but who were more than willing to give credit for such success to personal development. Each and every one of them, in his or her own way, said my biggest and hardest work as a business owner would be the work I did on myself. Had it not been for my military experience and the evidence of the effectiveness of personal development I saw right in front of me, it would have been very difficult to convince me of its worth. I will be forever grateful to the people who would not stop urging me to read, learn and become more. They changed my life.

So, why the blog? Because I've seen the change it makes in others. Because I know the change it has made in me and my life. Because I know what life is like when you're convinced neither you nor your circumstances can or will ever change. And because I don't want to see other people live out their lives that way or wait until they are in their forties to realize they can change.

Why the title? Because if you want to change your life you must, first of all, change the way you think. If you will change your mind you will change your life. When I began to change the way I thought, my life began to change. Even if I could go back to the old way of thinking, I wouldn't. My life has changed too much. I even adopted the concept to my hypnosis and coaching practice. "Change your mind...change your life" is more than a slogan. It's the fundamental belief with which I approach every client as I get to help them reach their goals.

Please, read along over time. Change your mind...change your life.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Imagination as fuel for change

I saw an article on the value of imagination in bringing about change. This is my take on it.