Studying Ourselves

I love the fact that there are so many interesting topics to learn about!  While the list of topics we can take an interested in could easily fill multiple blog posts, I think the most important topic each of us should spend time studying… is ourselves.

If we’re interested in living a fulfilling and satisfying life, we need to regularly spend time understanding how we’re uniquely wired.  This can come through reading about behaviors and habits we’d like to embody, taking (and reflecting on) self-assessments, and journaling.  While this is not a comprehensive list to self-discovery, it is a good starting point.

As you begin learning about yourselves, you start to discover things like:

  • When are you at your best?
  • When are you at your worst?
  • What captures your heart?
  • What were you uniquely created to do?
  • How do your respond to stress?
  • What do you do better than most other people?
  • What should you avoid doing?
  • What are some areas of your character that you need to improve?
  • When do you feel most alive?
  • What drains you?
  • Where in your life are you living below your ability??

The more we understand how we’re created and what makes us tick, the better we can decide how to invest our lives during the years we’re blessed with.  Because it’s challenging to know what to do with something when we don’t understand how it works.

I Love It… But Not Always

“I don’t know.”

I both love and despise this response as an answer to questions.

I love this answer for its honesty.  When someone is asked a question that they do not have the knowledge to answer, this is a superb response, versus simply making something up or faking it in an effort to look bad in front of others.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows humility as well as the ability to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers.  It also shows a willingness to receive input and ideas from others who have more knowledge in an area that you do.  It also shows that you’re teachable and eager to grow.

I despise “I don’t know” when it’s quickly thrown out as a default response simply because someone doesn’t want to expend the effort to give thought to a questions they have been asked.  Using “I don’t know” as the go to response is a great way to kill a conversation.  Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you just met and, an effort to get to know them you ask them what they like to do if they had a free day to themselves.  If they immediately respond with, “I don’t know”, and that it, where do you go from there?  These 3 simple words can quickly slam shut the door of conversation.

Here’s the worst part about the default response of, “I don’t know.  When someone asks for our thoughts or opinion about a topic as input for a decision and we respond with “I don’t know”, we are willingly handing over our ability to make or influence a decision to other people.  For me, the thought of willingly allowing other people to always think and make decisions for me is not appealing.  As such, when asked for my opinion or input, I always want to at least have a thought that I can respond with, whether complete or not yet formed.  This keeps me active in the decision making process, versus allowing other people to do my thinking for me.

Like most things in life, responding with “I don’t know” requires discernment.   There are times when this is the right answer, and other times when this response is best avoided.  One way to help discern your use of this response is to ask yourself, “Am I replying with ‘I don’t know’ because I don’t want to think, or am I responding with it because I honestly don’t know?”

If your answer to this question is the latter, then congratulations!  You’re putting yourself on the path to increase your understanding of the topic.  If however, your answer to this question is the former, consider a different response.

Challenging Assumptions

I love going to lectures and presentations to hear people talk about topics I’m interested in.  However, I’ve always lamented the fact that the towns around me didn’t offer such events.  My thinking has been that I need to move to a bigger city if I want to be closer to this kind of experience, because the region I live in just doesn’t support lectures and speakers.

That’s what I use to think… until starting looking.

A couple of weeks ago I got online and really started  to investigate to see if there were any types of lectures going on in and around the area I live.  I was surprised at how many opportunities there are every week to hear people speak on a wide range of interesting topics.  I found people talking about planets in the solar system, art history, world events and a whole bunch of other interesting topics.   (I know those topics probably sound kind of geeky, but I like them.)  I have no shortage of interesting events to attend!

I was amazed at how much is available and how false my assumption was.  It caused me to wonder what other false assumptions, beliefs, and mindsets I’m carrying around and how they might be limiting me.

Have you ever held a belief or assumption, only to have it proven false?  These assumptions can occur in many areas of our life, including:

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Personality ability
  • Religion
  • World View

I think it’s good to challenge assumptions that hold us back and determine whether or not they are really true.  It keeps us from getting stuck in a rut that limits our growth and potential.

Start to challenge your potentially false assumptions with investigation and action.  You may find many of them to be false barriers keeping you from the life you want.

Seeing Beyond

Several years ago I was a co-teacher for one of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University  classes.  I love Dave’s concepts for handling money, and his presentation style is funny, engaging, and informative.  One moment during the class on debt reduction really stood out for me.

Our group was having a discussion about the debt reduction principles Dave had just explained in the lesson.  One concept that is crucial for couples getting out of debt is that they communicate about their finances and work together.  Toward the end of this class I made a suggestion to the couples in class.  I suggested that as they were working on getting out of debt, they dream together about what life will be like when they are finally debt free.

The response to this comment was interesting.  Some of the people in class got it.  However, I specifically remember hearing a couple of defeated groans, as if they were saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  We’ll NEVER get out of debt!”  I was haunted by those groans.  It seemed that some of the couples were defeated before they even started.  Instead of being able to comprehend a new and better future, their vision was squarely locked on their present circumstance, keeping them from even believing that a debt free existence was possible.

It is easy to become frustrated or discouraged by current circumstances, especially when we don’t know how to change them or even believe that it’s possible to change them.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Whenever we find ourselves frustrated or discouraged, we have 2 choices:

  1. Continue to push ahead to change our circumstance for the better
  2. Give up

I don’t like the second option, because that equates to throwing in the towel and accepting as final the your current circumstance.  If you’re still reading this post, I doubt you like that option either.

So what can we do during those times of frustration and discouragement?  Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Envision where you want to be and what you want your life to look like in 1, 3, or 5 years. Press through the discouragement or disbelief and develop a detailed picture in your mind of what that life looks like.
  • Keep that picture firmly in your mind and review it often. Especially when the frustration and discouragement are at their height.
  • Take action every day, no matter how small, to move yourself closer to the vision you’ve created for yourself.

We will get discouraged and frustrated throughout life.  It’s guaranteed.  However, I think those feelings are caused by the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  If we’re pursuing worthy goals and seeking to grow and become better, those feelings can actually prompt us to continue (or begin) bridging that gap.

Just remember, it’s ok to be frustrated or discouraged in life, as long as we don’t park there permanently and squander our opportunities to take action, improve, and grow.  The choice is ours.  Let’s choose wisely.

Before You Respond Negatively…

Have you ever received a negative or unkind email from a friend or family member?  I’m talking about from people who don’t normally send emails like that.

My wife and other members of her family received an email from one of her siblings recently, expressing their displeasure over how a current family situation is being handled.  The sibling’s email expressed blame and disappointment at family members and was not well received.

It would be so easy to let emotion take the lead, and respond negatively to this email. However, all that usually proves to do is make the situation worse.

I’ve written in a previous blog that there is a space between a stimulus (like a negative email) and our response to it.  I think this is some important to remember, especially when we may be feeling emotionally charged or fired up by a stimulus.

As I was talking to my wife about the email, I began wondering caused them to send the email.  What was the reason?  I wondered what they were dealing with that caused them to send the email.  Perhaps the family situation was causing the sibling to feel:

  • Fear
  • Regret
  • Anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Shame
  • Helplessness
  • Frustration
  • Guilt

Maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that most negative emails are sent, not because the sender is a jerk, but because the sender is feeling one or more of the emotions above.  Perhaps even some additional emotions not listed.  I certainly think this is the case with my wife’s sibling. As I look at the email from this angle, it’s easy to see the sender, not as a jerk, but as a hurting human being.

The next time you receive a negative email, phone message, or any other form of communication, try to look past what’s being said and see if you can determine why it was delivered.  What is the sender dealing with?  Are there certain feelings and emotions in play?  Are they struggling, hurting, or making a poor attempt express a thought our concern?

Avoid the desire to be negative and lash out in return.  You just may save a relationship.

Comfort and Order

“Humans are designed to seek comfort an order, and if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable.  And even if they secretly want something better”

Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

I was half way through Donald Miller’s book (pg. 100) when I read those words above.  I found them to be both haunting and eye-opening.  They’re haunting, because I’ve been in this exact scenario for many years, and eye-opening, because it finally feels like the root cause to one of my primary struggles has been revealed.

I find it extremely easy to put off making a change when I’m comfortable or complacent in my current situation.  I’ve been struggling with making a career change for many years.  I currently work in Information Technology, but my preference is to work with people, rather than with hardware, software, and systems.  I’ve wanted to make a change for several years, but I’ve made minimal progress.  Often, weeks or months go by without me having done one thing to move closer to a new career.  I know what I’d like to be doing, but I find it easy to put off taking action, primarily because my current situation isn’t all that bad.  It’s comfortable enough to keep me from taking decisive action toward bringing about the career change I desire.

I knew this, to a certain degree, about myself, and could observe this scenario in my own life.  However, reading Miller’s words, that so clearly articulate this concept, it felt like a harsh slap or glass of cold water thrown in my face.  As if my mind was screaming, “He’s describing you!”

After reading those words, I’ve been keenly aware when I’m letting comfort and complacency chart my course.  It gets me fired up, because I can’t think of a single time in my life when I was driven by comfort and complacency, that it ever led me anywhere significant.

How about you?  Are there any areas in your life where you’re actions, or lack of actions, are being driven by the desire to maintain comfort and order?  Is the desire for comfort and order taking you where you really want to go in life?  If you’re struggling in this area, join me in taking the following actions:

  1. When you feel yourself being motivated by the desire to maintain comfort, acknowledge it. Call it out right there on the spot and say, “I’m not letting comfort chart my course any longer!”
  2. Think about the next step you need to take toward a goal or path you’ve set.
  3. Take that next step. It doesn’t matter how small a step it is; take it!
  4. Repeat the process as often as necessary

I don’t think we were designed to live lives that were above all, comfortable.  I think we’re at our best when we’re growing, improving, and pursuing the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Decide today to stop letting comfort keep you from pursuing a remarkable, fulfilling life.  All you have to lose is the discomfort of being comfortably stuck.

The Intersection

On Monday evening January 12th Ohio State played the University of Oregon for the College Football National Championship in Dallas Texas.  What struck me most about the game was not the score or the collective ability of each team, but the very clear life lesson that was on display during the game.  The lesson was that great things happen at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Although I was rooting for the University of Oregon, myself being from Oregon, I was really impressed with the performance of the Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

Consider this:

  • The National Championship game was only his the 3rd college start as quarterback
  • At the beginning of the season, he was the 3rd string quarterback on his team

I was amazed by these facts while watching the game.  While on the biggest stage in college football, Jones showed the command and poise of a seasoned quarterback.  He didn’t look like a 3rd string quarterback, or someone who had only started 3 games.  He looked like he belonged there.  Was he perfect?  No.  Did he make mistakes?  For sure!  However, he was able to step in for his team when his number was called late in the season and perform extremely well.  Well enough to help win a National Championship.

It is obvious from his performance that he had been practicing and preparing for the opportunity.  His preparation intersected with his opportunity, and great things happened.

If Jones hadn’t been diligent in practice while he was still the 3rd string quarterback, he never would have done so well when he got the nod to lead the offense.  Imagine what a different outcome Jones would have had if he had said, “Once I’m the starting quarterback, then I’ll really start practicing!  However, since I’m only the 3rd string, there’s really no point in doing my best at practice.”  Jones had great performances during his 3 starts because he put in the effort to prepare himself in practice; to be ready for the opportunity, even when he didn’t see one or know that one was coming.

What about you?  Are there areas where you need to begin preparing for a future opportunity?  Is there a class you need to take, a habit or discipline you need to develop or stop?  Is there a reading, networking, exercise, or eating plan you need to get on?  If so, begin today.  Don’t’ delay and think, “I’ll start preparing when I see an opportunity.”  That kind of thinking leaves out half of the intersection equation:  There can be no greatness-causing intersection between preparation and opportunity if opportunity shows up alone.

So begin preparing today for the opportunities you seek in the future.  My guess is that, if you’re preparing, the opportunities are closer than you think.

What Football Can Teach Us About Goal Setting – Part 2

There was some good college bowl games played on New Year’s Day 2015!  Ohio State and Alabama played a close game in the Sugar Bowl that went down to the last play, and Oregon dismantled Florida State in the Rose Bowl, breaking a Florida State 29 game winning streak in the process.  Despite the differences in each game, there was one aspect that was exactly the same:  Each team knew the significance of the goal line.

I love the name:  “goal line”.  It very clearly states the objective of the entire game for each team, no matter what side of the ball they’re on.  For the offense, the objective is to cross the goal line and score points for your team.  For the defense, the objective is to keep your opponent from crossing the goal line and scoring.

The goal line is a very clearly defined critical reference point that each team is striving to cross or protect.  There is no question from anyone, on either team, as to the objective of the game and the goal they’re working toward.

Imagine if there was no goal line in football.  The game would be confusing and chaotic, with no one really knowing what they were supposed to be doing or what the objective of the game was.  It can be like that in our own lives without clearly defined goals.  If we don’t know what goal lines we want to cross for our lives in 2015, we will be unclear and confused as to our daily direction.  In addition, unless we’re content just drifting through the year like a leaf in a stream, going wherever the current takes us, we’re going to be disappointed on December 31st 2015 when we realize we haven’t made any progress or significant changes in our life.

What goal lines have you defined for yourself for 2015?  Do you know what you’re moving toward achieving throughout 2015?   If so, great!  Begin taking steps every day to move ever closer to crossing your goal line.  If you haven’t determined what your goal lines for 2015 are, it’s not too late.  Spend some time deciding what you’d like to accomplish this year and clearly define what success in those areas looks like for you.  The definitions you create will be your goal lines.  Your objective for the year will be to make incremental progress toward crossing them.

All I’ve got is a 5

Imagine you need change for a 10 dollar bill (USD).  You ask someone next to you if they have change for a 10, to which they reply, “All I’ve got is a 5”.  That’s not what you want to hear.  You want change for a 10, not a 5.  You may get frustrated or upset because the other person doesn’t have change for a 10, but the reality is, that the most this person can give you is a 5.

It can be like that in your relationships with those closest to you, especially with family.

Picture an interaction rating scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst possible interaction (yelling, fighting, abusive language, a lack of caring or interest in you) and 10 being the best interaction imaginable (kind words of love and affirmation, good spirited laughter, and an appreciation of your presence).

Now envision going to a family event where you’ll encounter a family member whose interactions usually come in around a 3 or 4, with the occasional rare 5.  Perhaps it’s a parent, a spouse, a child, sibling, or grandparent.  If this person is someone close to you, you may find yourself hoping, even expecting, that this time your interaction will be closer to a 9, maybe even a 10!  Perhaps this time, they’ll speak kindly to you and finally tell you how much they love and appreciate you.

This expectation is unfair to the person you are interacting with.  If, on their best day, they are only capable of giving you a level 5 interaction, and you’re expecting a 10, you are not only setting yourself up for disappointment, you are setting them up for failure.

Here’s something to try at your next family get-together this holiday season.  Instead of starting from the place of expecting a level 10 interaction, consider what the person is capable of offering, and adjust your expectations accordingly.  If the best they can offer is a 6, set your expectations at a 4 or 5.  They just might surprise you with a 6.  Wouldn’t it be better to be surprised by a 6 when you were expecting a 4, than to be disappointed by a 6, when you were expecting a 10 that was never going to happen?

It’s worth mentioning that if interactions are always on lower end of the scale, you should consider putting some healthy boundaries in place, which may involve drastically reducing, or even eliminating, your interactions with this person.

We can choose to have unrealistically high expectations of certain people and set ourselves up for disappointment, or we can lower our expectations to realistic levels that other person can achieve.

Just remember, we can never get change for a 10 from someone who only has a 5.

Adding or Subtracting

I had a great Thanksgiving this year.  In the morning we had brunch with a small gathering at our house and in the afternoon we had dinner with family at my sister in-law’s house.  Both events were enjoyable and it was fun to see everyone and spend some time together.  It was a nice Thanksgiving.

At my sister in-law’s, there was a family member who was absent, due to illness and declining health.  Toward the end of the evening my sister in-law commented that it was nice not having the family member present because that way she didn’t feel on edge wondering if they were going get upset and start yelling, as they so often have in the past, thus turning what should be a fun family event into an awkward, tension filled evening.  This was clearly a case of addition by subtraction; the absence of this family member made for a more enjoyable evening for everyone else.

As I reflected on this comment, I couldn’t help think of my interactions with others and wonder if there have been times where an event would have been enhanced by my absence.  To think that the answer to this question would be “Yes”, is an awful feeling, especially if those answering are family and the people closest to me.  I never want my absence from a gathering or event to be considered addition by subtraction.

This seems like a pretty easy scenario to avoid.  If you want to be seen as someone whose presence adds to an event, then employ the following suggestions the next time you gather with family or friends:

  • Be kind to others. Greet people by name when you arrive.    Shake hands or give out hugs.  Let others in attendance know you’re glad to be part of the event with them.
  • Take the focus off of yourself and place it on others. Ask how people are doing and what they’re up to, and show an interest in their reply.  If you know of somewhere they’ve been recently, or something currently going on in their life, ask them about it and then listen to and comment on their reply.
  • Enjoy the moment and be present with the people you’re with. Put down the smartphone.  Wait until you get home to check social media.  Instead of being so eager to inform everyone who’s NOT at the event about what’s going on, engage and connect with those present.  That’s the ultimate in social media.

As you attend different events this holiday season, do so with the intent of being someone who’s presence enhances the event for others attending.  Let it be said of you that events which you attended were much more enjoyable because of your presence.   What a great gift to give people this holiday season.