Turning Off The Auto-pilot

I like being in control.  Not in a “control-freakish” kind of way, but being in control of how I respond to events and scenarios I’m presented with every day, instead of automatically reacting.

Just because I like being in control of how I respond doesn’t mean that I always do it as well as would prefer.  Unless I’m consciously aware of how I want to respond to life every day, I find it easy to drift along on “mental auto-pilot” and automatically respond to the day’s events without much thought.

I listened to an excellent podcast from Brendon Bruchard this week that discussed how high performers have the habit of deciding in advance how they want to feel during a specific events or scenarios.  By defining in advance how we want to feel, we can avoid the feelings (usually negative ones) that automatically will arise.

For example, if we know we’re going to be giving a speech making a presentation to a large group, we may be confronted with fear, but that don’t mean we have to feel afraid.  We can decide ahead of time that when we’re confronted with this fear, we will instead choose to feel confident, prepared and capable.  We’re not required to feel afraid.  We can choose a different feeling.

I think this is a potential life-changing concept that can improve our relationships, careers, and attitudes, which can improve the quality of our lives.  All we have to do is be willing to turn of the mental auto-pilot and chose how we’re going to feel.

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Choosing Responses

Last Saturday I got a phone call from a relative who was experiencing computer problems and they needed help.  Computers are not this person’s thing, so when something with their computer goes wrong, it’s a catastrophe for them.  This case was no exception.  They were frustrated, stressed out, worked up, and not handling it very well.

As I was helping them solve their computer issue, it would have been easy to let this person’s stress and negative energy cause me to become stressed out and irritable as well.  (In the past, that’s exactly what I would have done!)  But a negative response to a stressful situation is not a forgone conclusion, it’s a choice.

I think that’s good news!  If our negative response to a stressful situation is a choice, that means we can choose to respond positively instead.

Other people don’t make us behave poorly or bring out the worst in us.  The more accurate statement is that we chose to behave poorly around them.

While that comment stings a little, it also reminds me that other people don’t have control over how I respond to them, unless I hand control over to them.  Ultimately, we are each responsible for our responses, regardless of the influence of others.  And for that, I’m thankful.

The next time you feel yourself getting stressed out or worked up because of someone else’s negative influence, pause for a moment and remember that how you respond is your choice.  Then, choose how you ‘d like to respond.

Choosing the Right Path

Back in school, I wasn’t the best test taker.  I usually didn’t prepare very well and my technique when I got stuck, which was often, amounted to little more than closing my eyes and selecting whichever answer my pencil landed on.  Fortunately, my studying and test taking habits have gotten much better.

Earlier this week I was taking an exam for work.  I had prepared well and was ready to take the test.  However, about half way into the exam I got stuck on a couple of questions and also noticed that I might be a little behind, based on time and questions remaining.  For a moment, I could sense the beginnings of feeling frazzled.  (I’m very familiar with what this feels like, as it was a regular occurrence in school.)

Suddenly all these non-productive thoughts started to flood my mind:

  • “You’re not going to get the score you need to pass.”
  • “You’re going to have to retake this test.”
  • “Think of all the time you’re going to have to spend re-studying!”
  • “You’re half-way through your allotted time and you still have half the questions left AND several you have to go back and review. You’ll never make it!”
  • “You don’t know this material as well as you thought. Perhaps you weren’t ready to take this exam.”

I felt like I had approached a very real fork in the road.  The path to the left is where I would decide that these thoughts had merit and as a result, I’d allow myself to get sloppy and lazy in how I approached the rest of the exam, knowing that failure was likely where I was heading.  The path to the right is where I would recognize my thoughts for what they were (a distraction and not a prophecy), push them to the side, and double down on doing my very best.

I chose the path to the right.  I also scored a 93%.  Well beyond what was needed to pass.

It’s amazing to me how my own negative thoughts felt like a physical force pushing against me, much like a headwind against a runner or cyclist.  The best way we can combat the negative force of our own thoughts is by replacing them with thoughts of determination and commitment to successfully complete what we’ve set out to do.  (If that feels challenging in the moment, starting with a prayer would be a good way to begin.)

When you face the headwind of your own negative thinking, realize that these thoughts are not prophetic, and you’re not required to agree with them.  Then, immediately challenge them with positive thoughts and actions that support those positive thoughts.

We can control our thoughts and ultimately use them to take us down the path we want to travel.

Start and Stop

“I’d like to …

  • Live a healthy and active lifestyle
  • Have control of my finances
  • Improve my attitude
  • Become a better leader
  • Be a better spouse/partner
  • Parent my children well
  • Be well read
  • Improve the quality of my relationships
  • Learn to play a musical instrument well
  • Make a bigger contribution with my life”

 

Have you ever heard someone make a statement like this?  Perhaps you’ve even made a similar statement yourself.  I have.

Whenever I hear statements like these, either from others or from myself, the first thought that pops into my head is, “Then start doing what that type of person does”.

If you’d like to: Then START doing what:
Live a healthy and active lifestyle Healthy people do
Become a better leader Good leaders do
Improve your attitude People with good attitudes do
Be a better spouse/partner People in solid committed relationships do
Have control of your finances Financially stable people do
Parent your children well Good parents do
Improve the quality of your relationships People with deep friendships do
Make a bigger contribution with your life People who are making a difference with their lives do

 

The second thought that comes to mind when I think about something I’d like to be doing, is to stop doing things that would take me in the opposite direction.

If you’d like to: Then STOP doing what:
Live a healthy and active lifestyle Couch potatoes do
Become a better leader Bad leaders do
Improve your attitude People with bad attitudes do
Be a better spouse/partner People who devalue committed relationships do
Have control of your finances Broke people do
Parent your children well Bad parents do
Improve the quality of your relationships People with poor relationships do
Make a bigger contribution with your life Apathetic or indifferent people do

 

No matter what it is we want to achieve, there are healthy patterns of behavior that will get us there.  Likewise, there are other behavior patterns that will lead us in the opposite direction from where we want to be.  We are fortunate to be able to observe both types of patters in others, so that we can adjust our own behaviors to help us get the results we want.

Is there a goal or positive trait you’d like to develop in your life?  If so, look at others who exemplify that trait, find out what behaviors they routinely follow that brings that trait about in their life, and then put those behaviors into practice in your own life.  Also be on the lookout for examples of the behaviors that are contrary to where you want to go.  Avoid those.

Examples abound.  We only have to look for them; and learn from them as well.

Independence Day

This Monday July 4th the United States will celebrate Independence Day, when this country’s founders declared their independence from British rule.  Independence Day was a significant event for this country, as it marked a change in direction from the way things had been toward a new direction the world had never seen.

As I think about this holiday, I can’t help think about the things in our own life that we can declare independence from.  These may include:

  • Unhealthy habits
  • Negative environments
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Toxic relationships
  • Societal pressures
  • The status quo

The founders of the United States could have decided that things were really “not that bad” or “good enough as they were” and gone with the flow.  Instead, they had a vision of something better and chose to declare their independence from British rule.

What’s encouraging is that we have the same capacity to choose independence for ourselves.

Where in your life would you benefit from declaring independence?  Determine what that area is and take action to become independent and begin changing the course of your life for the better.

26 Tiny Building Blocks

I’m blown away by the English alphabet!  From these 26 tiny characters, these building blocks, come great works like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Here’s what’s most extraordinary to me:  we all have access to these building blocks and we get to choose what we create with them, simply by how we arrange them.

A colleague of mine once told me, “Paper will just lay there and let you write anything on it you want.”  Letters of the alphabet are the same way.  They don’t care how you arrange them or what you create with them.  They’re not good or bad.  They’re just available to us to say or express anything we want.

They can be arranged to form something great or to express love and gratitude toward someone we care about.  They can also be arranged to spread hate and fear.  The choice on how we arrange these building blocks is totally up to us.

The next time you have the opportunity to use these building blocks, whether it’s writing a letter, sending an email, or making an update on social media, think about what you’re creating.  Is your arrangement of the 26 building blocks something that will add value to others and lift them up?  Are you creating something that you would be proud to have your name on next week, month, or year?  Does your arrangement make the world, or does it darken it just a little more?

With access to a tool as powerful as the alphabet comes great responsibility in how we handle it.  Let’s be aware of what we’re building and choose to arrange these building blocks for purposes of good, rather than to harm.

Slow Down

The day after Thanksgiving my wife and I went for a hike to Cascade Head on the Oregon Coast.  The weather was sunny and in the low 50s with a very light breeze.  We hiked up to a favorite spot where we had unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and the town of Lincoln City.  For an hour we sat there observing the view, watching some whales spouting nearby, and just taking in the peaceful scene before us.  It was one of those experiences that left me feeling refreshed and recharged.  Neither one of us wanted to leave.   We could have sat there all day.

CascadeHeadNov2015

That experience reminded me of the importance of slowing down and enjoying moments like that when they present themselves.  Unfortunately with busy schedules, constantly beeping electronic devices, and any number of life’s other distractions, these moments are easy to miss, unless we slow down, and actively look for them.

Begin looking for opportunities during your day to slow down and do something that may not be considered productive, but leaves you feeling recharged, refreshed, connected, thankful, or just content.  The opportunities are numerous and can range from enjoying a beautiful scene outside to spending time with a good friend.

These opportunities are out there.  We need only slow down and look for them.