Filling Up Your Mind

Have you ever considered how what we allow into your mind directly impacts our thinking and outlook on life?  Similar to how the types of food we allow into our bodies directly impacts our physical health, the material we watch, read, and listen to have a direct impact on our thinking and how we view our current situations and overall view of life.  Therefore, it is imperative that we are not only aware of what we are filling up our minds with, but that we are also taking an active role to ensure the content we consume is positive, useful, and improves our thinking, rather than polluting it.

For example, I’m currently conducting a job search to find work closer to where I live.  This can be a challenging process with no shortage of opportunities to engage in negative thinking.

In Scripture we’re told…

“[…] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  — Phil 4:8

Therefore, before I started the job search process, I found some positive words to use daily to keep me focused and to thwart of negative thinking when it would begin to show itself.  Some of those positive words I use include:

  • The greatest cure for anxiety is action.
  • Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. – Psalms 25:4
  • Do what others aren’t willing to do.
  • Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7
  • Take action every day.

These words are certainly not the only positive choices and may not be for everyone, but they work very well for me in my situation.  The important point is for each of us to find our own encouraging words that we can use to positively influence our thinking.

What about you?  What are you filling your mind with?  Could you benefit some renewed and positive thinking?  If so, begin collecting quotes, phrases, gems from religious text, or just kind words from others and put them in a place that will cause you it intersect with them several times a day.  As you see them, spend a moment to read them, think about them, and apply into your daily life.  This habit will not only cause your thinking to change for the positive, but your life will follow as well.

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Someone Would Gladly Trade With You

Life is good, but occasionally we get frustrated and begin to complain.  This isn’t all bad, because frustration can often be the spark that causes us to take action to improve our life.  However, we get into trouble when we focus solely on what is frustrating us and develop an attitude of complaining.

We may justify our complaining by pointing out how bad things are, but here’s a thought to consider the next time we feel like complaining:  someone in the world would gladly trade places with you.

Consider this:

You think… Someone else thinks…
My job sucks. I’ll trade with you!

I’m currently unemployed and would love to have a job right now.

My marriage stinks. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to be married and willing to work out our differences with a spouse.

I’m old. I’ll trade with you!

I’m 32 and have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I’d love to look forward to growing old.

I’m fat and out of shape. I’ll trade with you!

I live in a country where we rarely have enough to eat, let alone have the ability to choose a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.

My life is boring. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to have the freedom and resources you have to choose how I live my life.  There’s so much I want to do, experience, and learn.

As you look at your frustrations through the lens of how others view them, your situation starts to look a whole lot better.

The next time you find yourself having adopted an attitude complaining, stop and consider how many people would love to trade places with you.  This thought will likely give you a new perspective on your situation as well as refocus your attitude.

5 Steps to Making Improvements

It’s easy to decide to change.   The challenging part is actually taking action.

Sometimes we want to take action, but we’re immobilized because we don’t know where to start or what the next step is that we should be taking.  Below are some steps I’ve taken at work this year to change my contribution so I could start using the talents and skills I possess to better serve my customers and have a more fulfilling work experience.  These steps have worked well for me, so I thought I’d share them with the readers of this blog, in hopes they will do the same for you.

Step 1.  Identify what skills you have that you want to develop and use more, and begin improving your knowledge in this area.

For me, this was in the area of data visualization.  I enjoy turning data into useful interactive information that helps business people make better decisions.  Therefore, I began reading and learning about best practices and techniques to do this well.

Keep in mind that the process of building your skills and increasing your knowledge is an ongoing process of learning.  As you move through the other steps, you’ll continually be coming back to this step.

Step 2.  Identify a need that your skills can fill or a problem they can solve.

Here is where you begin looking for opportunities where you can apply your skills to solve a real problem.  For me, this was in the area of displaying our operational data in a visual format that was clear and easy for business people to access and understand.

Step 3.  Begin applying your skills to create a solution to the problem you’ve identified.

This is where your knowledge gets stretched and where you rapidly grow your experience and begin to master the skills you’re applying.  Once you start applying your skills, you realize, there’s a lot you don’t know, so you learn as you go.

I dove right in and started using a tool called QlikView to build applications that displays our data in a clear interactive format that would give people a view of our business, through operational data, that they’ve never had before.  I often refered to books, the Internet, or other colleagues for information and insight in order to solve the numerous problems I encountered.

Step 4.  Share your initial solution with others and get their input. Make changes based on the input you receive and then present those changes back to them.

Once I had an application built, I showed it to the business users.  While they liked what they initially saw, they had suggestions of what they really would also like to see that I hadn’t included.  I went back, made those changes, along with some others that were sparked during our conversations.

This is an iterative process.  Continue until your solution is complete.

Step 5.  Go back to step 1 or 2 and repeat the process.

Once I had created a solution for one area of our business, I looked at other areas that would benefit from similar measurement and visualization tools and repeated the process as described above.

This has been a great year for me at work, as I feel I’m making real contributions that are positively impacting my organization and helping people get more clear answers than they’ve ever had before.

If there’s an area in your life, be it professional or personal, that you want to make a change, try employing the steps listed above.  They provide a flexible guideline that will create order and direction.

The only thing required from us is action.

The Power of Commitment

This week I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary.  As I’ve ben thinking back on our 21 years, I’m reminded of the power of a commitment.

Being committed to something is far more powerful than simply being “in” something.  When you’re “in” a marriage it implies there’s a way out and that you can give up at any time when things get difficult, boring, or old.  There’s really nothing solid keeping you “in”.

However, when you’re committed to something, you’ve decided in advance that there is no getting out when things get tough.  Commitment means you’ve already decided that instead of looking for exit strategies, you’ll look for solutions and strategies to successfully overcome issues you face.  Difficulty, challenge, or boredom do not signal an upcoming off ramp, but rather remind you it’s time to double-down on your efforts.  Why?  It’s because you’ve made a commitment to do so.

This is true of commitment to a number of situations, including:

  • A marriage
  • Parenting
  • Mastering a challenging new skill
  • Establishing a good habit or replacing a bad one
  • Getting in shape
  • Achieving a worthwhile goal
  • Building a good relationship
  • Becoming a person of character and integrity

When you’re committed to something, it changes your vision.  You start to see opportunities to do better and overcome obstacles, instead of excuses why can’t.  You see the bigger picture you’re striving for instead of the immediate circumstance you may be struggling with.  With the vision of commitment, you know where you’re going and more importantly, why.

Are there any areas in your life you need to be committed to, rather than just being “in”?  Better yet, are there any areas where you need to recommit to do something you’ve let slide?  Spend a few minutes thinking about these questions, and then make, or re-make, any necessary commitments you need to make.  Doing so will enable you to start tapping into the power of commitment today.

Goals Alone Won’t Do

Everyone likes to have goals.  There is something exciting and encouraging about looking to the future and envisioning how it could be.  However, just having a goal is not enough, at least if you want your goal to become a reality.  The setting of a goal is easy.  Creating a plan of action to achieve your goal can be challenging.

I was listening to Jeff Haden on The Learning Leader Show podcast talk about the importance of having an action plan with steps you can take that will move you closer to the attainment of a goal.  This was information I’ve heard a zillion times, but this time, it was like hearing it for the first time.  It’s weird how that works!

Like most people, I’ve been guilty of setting goals and not following through with them.  I love the end of the year because I focus on what I want the next year to look like and write down a number of very specific goals.  Some I achieve, and others I lose track of or don’t make the progress I’d like to.

Upon hearing Jeff’s message, I realized that in all the goal setting I’ve done, I have never actually written out the specific action steps and timeframe to accompany the goal I’d like to achieve.  No wonder several of my goals are unattained or forgotten.  If I don’t identify what I need to do to attain them, it’s largely just wishful thinking.

It got me thinking, in order to help me reset my existing goals, and get a jump on the system I’ll use for next year’s goals, I think I need to integrate the following concepts:

  • Describe the specific goal
  • Determine the action steps I’ll need to take to achieve the goal
  • Make a plan to take these action steps on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis
  • Revisit this plan at least weekly

In addition to the above concepts, it also seems important to break up large goals into a series of smaller goals that take less than 90 days to achieve.  Larger goals that take 12 months to achieve can feel overwhelming or breed a false sense that they can be started later since they won’t be realized for quite some time.   When broken down into a series of smaller goals we increase the likelihood of building momentum having early success.

If goals are worth having, then we should have a process in place that ensures the greatest probability of seeing them fulfilled.

The next time you’re setting goals for yourself, try integrating these ideas.  The only thing that stands in the way of where you are and where you want to be is the actions required to get there.

You Already Know

My wife has been traveling for work a lot lately, so she’s interesting in looking for tips to help her pack lighter or more efficient.  After she had looked up some tips on-line I asked her, “So what did you learn that you can start applying?”  Her response was, “Nothing I didn’t already know.”

That response got me thinking.  How many things do we already know we should be doing, that we aren’t?  My guess is that in the gap between where we are and where we want to be, we already know the steps we need to take to get there.  At a minimum, we usually know the specific step we should take right now.

The real question then becomes; what’s keeping us from doing what we already know we should be doing?  There are several potential reasons, such as:

  • Fear – of all sorts
  • Indecision
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of focus
  • Laziness
  • Maybe we just don’t feel like putting forth the effort

So there we sit, where we’ve always been because we know what we need to do, but don’t do it.

Think about that.  When we already know what we need to be doing to achieve a desired outcome, and fail to act, the only thing standing between us and our goal… is us!

What do you already know you should be doing, that you currently aren’t?  Do you already know what you need to be doing in order to:

  • Improve a relationship
  • Get in better health/shape
  • Manage your finances better
  • Advance your career
  • Improve yourself intellectually or spiritually
  • Live the life you desire

If you answered, “Yes”, then starting today, get out of your own way and do what you already know you need to be doing.  You are not only the biggest obstacle to overcome in achieving your dreams; you are also the greatest force to bring them about.

How to Make a Difference

Most people have a desire to make a difference.  Whether it’s in their family, relationships, community, or career, people want to know what they’re doing, or have done, matters; that they have added value to others; that their efforts have made a difference.

I feel the same way.

Sometimes it can be challenging to determine how we can make a difference or add value to those around us.  The challenge of “how” to do this can often keep us from taking any action at all.  I think one way to determine how we can make a difference is to follow this simple 3-part process:

  1. Determine what you do well, what you enjoy doing, and what you are excited about.
  2. Find someone who has a need you are able to solve and, excited about doing so.
  3. Get started.

I started doing this at work earlier this year, after feeling like I wasn’t making much of a difference.  Here’s what the 3-part process looked like for me:

  1. I enjoy providing information about our business in a clear, simple format that business partners can easily understand and use to make business decisions. I discovered that the company I work for has a great tool (QlikView) for building information dashboards, so I began learning how to use this tool.
  2. The business unit I support has been lacking clear, easy to understand business reporting.
  3. I began using QlikVeiw to put some dashboards together and share them as prototypes with the business. The business found the very useful and asked me to create additional dashboards to help measure the business.

Since I took this initiative to make a difference, I really feel like I’m making a significant contribution regarding how the business receives and uses data.   The work I do feels meaningful, relevant, and important.  Plus, I just love doing it!

What about you?  What do you do well or what are you interested in that you can share with others?  Look around.  Who has a problem that you can solve with the skills and interest you possess?  Have you identified them?  Good.

Now start making a difference.