How to Get Out of Prison

Would you ever volunteer to spend several years of your life in prison?  Think about that.  Would you voluntarily decide to sacrifice, say, 10 or more years of your current life for that of a prison inmate?  My answer to that question is, “Are you kidding me?!  Who in their right mind would do something as stupid as that?!”  However, I think that every day, many people voluntarily send themselves to a prison of frustration, despair and under achievement.  And it’s not a judge, jury, or court that sentences people to this prison.  What sends most people to the prison I describe is the conviction of their own thinking.

Just this week, I was talking with someone who was telling me how bad everything in their life was going.  During our conversation, they unknowingly gave me glimpses into their thinking through the language they chose to describe their situation.  It was negative and self-defeating and stripped them of any ability to change their current situation.  Their thinking had made them hopeless, and the more hopeless they became, the further their thinking deteriorated.

I left that conversation frustrated, because I knew that, although their situation was challenging, it wasn’t as insurmountable as their thinking made it out to be.  With some minor changes to their thinking, they could easily attain a more hopeful outlook, and even restore a degree of joy about life again.  Instead, they chose to extend the sentence they have placed on themselves by the thinking they continued to employ.

When the conversation was over, I felt like I had just left a prison after visiting an incarcerated inmate.  It was a heavy feeling, knowing that they could begin to free themselves from their self-imposed sentence by simply changing their thinking, but realizing that that wasn’t a choice they were going to make.

Is there any area in your life where you’ve sentenced yourself through the court of your own thinking?  What negative thoughts about people, situations, or circumstances are affecting you outlook in a negative way?  Give some thought to these questions this week.  When you discover an area where your thinking is imprisoning you, cause something to happen by determining alternative ways of thinking about the situation that improves your outlook and restores hope and confidence in the future.  (If you need a source to help you change your thinking for the better, I’d recommend reading the book of Proverbs.  It is filled with great wisdom and principles that will have a profound impact on your thinking.)

Don’t spend another day in a prison of your own negative thinking.  Decide today to improve your thinking and set yourself free.

You don’t have to be 9 Feet Tall to be a Giant

There has been a lot spoken about the life of Nelson Mandela in the weeks following his death.  His legacy is being compared with the likes of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  One thing is certain; on the world stage, Nelson Mandela was big.

I was familiar with his imprisonment and how he forgave his captors as well as him being the first black president of South Africa.  What I didn’t fully understand about this great man was the degree to which he was loved by the people of South Africa.  He was held in high regard by them and often referred to as “the father of the nation”.  In the hearts of the South African people, and people around the world, he wasn’t just big, he was a giant.

Wouldn’t you like to be a giant like that?  I would!  What a great legacy it would be to have had such a positive impact and influence on so many people around the world.  Nelson Mandela was a unique figure in history.  People such as him don’t come along very often.  There are few people that have, or will, leave a similar mark on the world stage.

But don’t lose heard, because there’s good news!  Every one of us has the capacity to be a giant.  We can be giants in our families, our communities, and our circles of influence.

So how do we go about being giants?  What does being a giant in our circles of influence look like?  Here are some actions you can take toward becoming a giant to those around you:

  1. Love those around you and those closest to you.  Don’t just say you love them; show them with your actions and how you live your life.  If you’re not sure what love in action looks like, check out 1 Corinthians 13.
  2. Be a “value add” in the lives of people.  Encourage others.  Listen to them.  Help them out when you can.  Forgive them when it’s needed, or seek forgiveness when it’s needed.
  3. Be present.  When you’re with someone close to you, let your actions show how important they are to you.  Turn the cell phone off and focus on the interaction with them.  Remove distractions and pay attention to what they’re saying.  Ask questions.  It’s a big deal when someone you care about decides to spend some of their time with you.  Their time, like yours, is valuable.  Honor them by being present.

Wouldn’t we all like to know that we were a significant part of the lives of those closest to us, and that we made a difference to them?  We’re all capable of being giants to those around us.  We need only chose to do so and follow that decision up with consistent action that shows those around us that we value them.

Start becoming a giant today.  You’ll feel great from the positive impacts this will have on your relationships, and others will be blessed by having a giant in their lives.

Pay Someone

It seems like we’re always paying people.  Perhaps it’s the grocery store for our recent purchase, or maybe it’s the waiter or waitress at the restaurant.  We pay the utility company, the bank, the cellphone company and many other people and organizations as part of going about our daily lives.  Regardless of that, I’m going to suggest that you cause something truly beneficial to happen this week by finding additional people to pay.

I can already hear the response, “The only thing finding more people to pay is going to cause is me going broke!”  Don’t worry.  I’m not suggesting you find new creditors to send monthly payments to.  Far from it!  In fact, I’m not even suggesting there be a monetary exchange at all.  What I am suggesting is that you find people to whom you can pay a genuine compliment.

Most people enjoy receiving a sincere compliment.   I know I do!  So why not leverage our capacity to brighten someone elses’s day with a sincere compliment by looking for opportunities to do so?

We can all think of someone we know who has done a good job for us, or whose work we admire.  Perhaps it’s someone with a remarkable skill or attitude.  It can be a colleague we work with, someone whose services we use, or even a friend, family member, or a total stranger we witness doing something good.

I had a chance to do this with my veterinarian this week.  He recently was successful in treating our cat for a condition she had been suffering from for quite some time.  His logical, methodical approach impressed me as much as the immediate results we that saw in our cat.  So when we ran into him at the store this week, I told him.  I told him how impressed I was with his methodical approach and how much I appreciated the results of his efforts.  After I paid him this compliment, he was all smiles.  Now I’m not saying that my compliment was the highlight of his day, but based on his response, I could tell that he really appreciated hearing it.

Be on the lookout in the days ahead, and every day for that matter, for people to whom you can pay a genuine compliment.  When you find them, be generous with the currency of your kind words.  Let them know specifically what they’ve done, or what they do, that sparked your compliment.  Also let them know what that means to you.  Not only will it cause them to feel good to be paid a sincere compliment, it will also make you feel good to share some kind words with someone else.

The Positive and Negative Sides of “I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know.”  Sometimes it’s true.  Sometimes we truly don’t know the answer to a question that’s posed to us, or to a decision we need to make.  In either case, I love this answer when it is coupled with a plan of action or next steps to get the information needed in order to answer the question or make the decision.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows a confidence in ourselves, knowing that we don’t need to have all the answers.  It shows that we are willing to investigate and learn in order to increase our understanding.  It implies humility, self-assurance, and a willingness to be taught.  I love that!

As much as I love a genuine “I don’t know”, at other times, it can also be an extremely frustrating answer.  Specifically in response to a question that is asked in order to gain a person’s thoughts, opinions, or ideas.  “I don’t know” can often be used to hide behind when we want to avoid having to think or come up with a thought or idea.  For some, this response is almost automatic.  Before their brains have even begun to grapple with the question, their mouths have shut down the thought process completely with a simple “I don’t know”.

For me, when I initially get this response I gently encourage people to give some thought to the question and consider another answer.  Usually it’s as easy as saying, “No, really.  What do you think?”  Often, this is all people need to know that you really are interested in what they have to say, and will cause them to open up and share a well thought answer or opinion.  For others, their “I don’t know” stands.  When this is the case, I politely, but quickly, either change the topic or end the conversation.

Cause something to happen in your own communication starting today by trying the following:

  • Be quick to say “I don’t know” when it truly applies, and be open to gaining the knowledge or understanding needed.
  • If you ask someone a question and they come back with a quick “Oh, I don’t know”, press a little by asking them “No, really.  What do you think?”
  • When you’re asked for your opinion, thoughts or input, engage your mind and exercise your ability to think and reply thoughtfully versus giving a knee-jerk reaction of “I don’t know”, simply to avoid having to think.

Be mindful of these suggestions during your conversations in the days ahead.  By doing so, you’ll be making an effort to better engage the people you’re communicating with.  Who knows, you might even be putting yourself in a position be an influence in someone else’s life.

It Doesn’t Define You

None of us enjoy when we inadvertently make ourselves look foolish.  Unfortunately, sometimes, it just happens.  When it does it makes us feel awkward and embarrassed ashamed.  For me, this usually occurs while asking a question, making a statement, or presenting something I believe to be fact that turns out not to be the case.  All of a sudden I realize how foolish the last thing I just said or did was and begin thinking, “Everyone here must think I’m’ a total idiot!”  This actually just happened to me earlier this week.

The truth is that this happens to all of us at one time or another.  It’s the risk we take when putting ourselves out there to interact and share our thoughts, ideas, and lives with other people.  When this occurs, it is imperative that we be mindful not to let the experience cause us to shrink back from being fully engaged in life.  Usually we want to pull back to avoid the risk of looking foolish again in the future.    That is the last things we should do!  As much as we may feel like disengage, it’s important not to let a single moment define us or negatively shape our behaviors moving forward.

I believe there are some more constructive things we can do, such as:

  • Realize that one embarrassing moment does not define you or diminish your value as a person.
  • Tell someone close to you that you trust and feel save with about your experience.
  • Look at the situation through the lens of humor.  Was it funny?  If so, give yourself permission to laugh at the situation; and at yourself.

If you really want to cause something to happen that will benefit others, try the following when an embarrassing moment happens to someone you know:

  •  Empathize with them.  Tell them you understand exactly how they feel.
  • Tell them about a time when you embarrassed yourself, or made yourself look foolish in front of other.  As you’re recounting the event, freely laugh at yourself, and let them know it’s ok for them to laugh along with you.
  • Here’s the best thing you can do for them:  Tell them you still think they’re great.  Let them know the event doesn’t define them in your eyes, or diminish their value to you by telling them:  “I still think you’re pretty great, special, cool, fantastic…” you get the idea.

Let’s not let one embarrassing moment keep us from being fully engaged in life.  We all have too much of ourselves to offer the world to keep it hidden away, for fear of looking foolish.

As long as we want to be engaged in life, we’re all going to experience moments where we may look foolish or not present our best selves.  It’s going to happen.

The only way to avoid it is by never sharing your thoughts or ideas with others, and that’s no way to live.  Instead, just remember that when it does occur, go easy on yourself.  The moment does not define you, and it will pass sooner than you realize.  And don’t forget to encourage others not to be too hard on themselves either.  They’ll appreciate your kind words and be encouraged by your example.

You’re Unique

Whenever I’m in a large crowd of people I’m amazed at the fact that each person has a unique and different appearance (identical twins notwithstanding).  With all the combinations of facial features, body types, skin and hair color, height and weight possibilities, no 2 people are exactly alike in appearance.  Each person is unique.  I love that!

In addition to physical features every person is also unique in their mix of gifts and talents.  Unlike hair color or height and weight, a person’s gifts and talents are not always visibly recognizable to others, or to the person who possesses them.  It’s easy for us to see a talent being used in other people, but we can often miss, or even dismiss the unique talents and gifts that we possess. When we see others’ talent being used it’s easy to think, “I wish I were talented like so-and-so“ or “I’m just not that talented”.   Of our own talents, we may even think, “It’s not a big deal” or “There’s nothing special about that”.  I disagree.  Your talents are a big deal, and they are something special.

I think we are at our best when we are using our gifts and talents on a regular basis.  We perform our greatest work, give our greatest effort, and make our greatest contribution when we engage them.  That’s why it’s so important for us to be aware of our gifts and talents and seek to use them often in the course of our daily lives.

Spend some time over the next couple of days reflecting on your unique gifts and talents.  As you do, think of opportunities to use them to cause something to happen in your personal or professional life. Also, realize that no one else on the planet has the exact same make up of gifts and talents that you do.

You truly are unique!


Help Someone Get What They Want

The entire world, with one tiny exception, is made up of other people.”

~John Maxwell

This is such a true statement.  If you’ve ever tried to cause something to happen that required the assistance of others, you’ve most assuredly run into this reality.

This quote reminds me that, while we all have my own unique goals, agendas, mindset and world view, so does everyone else on the planet.  I think it important for us to remember that to each person, their goals and agendas are the most important ones to them.  Any agenda I have, to them, is secondary to their own.   That makes sense right?  Most folks are concerned for other people, but their primary concern is for themselves.

This can be challenging when we need the assistance of others.  How do we get assistance from someone who has focus and priorities that are different from our own?    I think Zig Ziglar’s signature saying is a great guide:  “You can get everything you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”  If we need help from someone who is busy with their own priorities, why don’t we offer to help them first?  Before seeking assistance from them, what if we first offered assistance to them?

I know, you’re thinking, “They’ll just take my help and not help me in return.”  It’s possible.  But I think we’d be surprised how often people are willing to help you when you first offered to help them.

Let’s look for opportunities to help others get what they want.  Not as a way of being manipulative in order to get our way, but as a way of conveying to others that we understand how important their goals and agendas are to them.