What would you do? Setting the right response in motion

A key lesson that I have learned over the past few years is that the easiest way to change how we respond to things or people we encounter is to have a system in place to help us. Frustration grows when it just seems like someone or something pushes our buttons every time. That trigger is going to continue to plague us until we change it. While it’s great when we can do that just by choosing to make that change, the reality is that it’s rarely that simple.

My experience has been that it really comes to down to sleuthing, solving the mystery, evaluating vs. judging. You see, that’s where I found the real issue. We can get so busy judging ourselves for our reaction, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to understand it. When we understand it, we are equipped to change it in a meaningful and sustainable way.

What you give meaning to is what causes your emotion. Before you react know why you are giving something so much energy or fear. When you begin to understand why you give things meaning you can begin to change how you react and why you do what you do.  ~Shannon L. Alder

There are five key investigation tools to use that will help you master the art of reaction every time. Using the word REACT, let’s break them down.

R – Recognition

This is the first step. Simply recognizing it’s happening and taking responsibility for it. Just by asking ourselves if in fact we are reacting, we start a valuable chain reaction shift. We are taking responsibility for our side of the equation.

E – Emotion

Emotions are wonderful. They are such a part of what makes life such an exquisite experience. But they can also derail us when they are part of a triggered response. In my early training as an executive coach we broke this down into another acronym – FLAGS. We use that to identify the dominant emotion in our response. Fear, Love, Anger, Guilt or Sadness. FLAGS. Once we can pinpoint the emotion that’s involved we can begin to determine where the core response and put productive measures in place to handle it. If the trigger brings up guilt as an example, that’s very different from fear in terms of next steps. But in both cases, it is the initial recognition of the emotion that will lead us to the next right questions.

A – Attitude

What did you expect? Where are your sensitivities? Many years ago, when I was really struggling communicating with a fellow executive, I had a conversation with a trusted friend and mentor. He suggested that my sensitivities were high and that I was expecting a certain action and so that is what I saw.  My attitude was a conditioning agent. I had to first be open to a positive exchange before one could happen.  Being candid with ourselves about our expectations and attitude toward a person or situation is a critical part of our excavation to our solution.

C – Context

This was perhaps the most important element for me in a number of situations. Has someone ever asked you what a word meant and you weren’t certain or there were several possibilities? What do you normally ask them to do? I suspect it might be to ask them to use it in a sentence to help you better understand what it might mean. The context of anything is the ultimate lens for deciphering it’s meaning. What else is going on? Is it related? Not related? Is it influencing? One example might be that you’ve had a pretty long day and you’re physically exhausted. You’re tired. Does that seem to be a factor in some cases? Or perhaps there was an incident just prior that left some unresolved emotions that are spilling over.

T – Truth

What do you know to be true? This is an essential question because it allows us to get to the taproot of the situation quickly. When we take assumptions off the table or at least recognize them for what they are, we’re in fact clearing judgments and other potential mental or emotional clutter in reviewing our next steps.

R-E-A-C-T

RECOGNIZE what is happening;

Identify the dominant EMOTION;

Check your ATTITUDE coming into the situation;

Consider the CONTEXT of the situation; and,

Focus on what is TRUE.

That’s the process. That’s the system. Like anything regarding our personal framework, it’s also a skill. This can be your most effective system for productive personal change.

As a final note, remember that as we change ourselves, we are also creating the opportunity to change other people’s perspective of us as well. That’s especially true for those where we have influence but it’s also not limited there. When we employ this skill, we can inspire others to do the same. It creates a CHAIN REACTION that’s positive and constructive.

Live (react) today like you want tomorrow to be. Live (react) well.

 

Resiliency: Creating perspective with gratitude

Nothing challenges our beliefs like pain.

Whether physical, mental or emotional, when pain strikes, all bets are off when it comes to what we might have expected in our responses.

That is why it’s crucial for us to have a tool to create context and perspective for those moments.

That tool is gratitude.

You cannot be stressed and genuinely grateful at the same time. You cannot be angry and grateful at the same time. They are counter-intuitive emotions.

It can be hard to find gratitude when your world seems to be crumbling. And it’s maddening when others tell you about the silver lining in your cloud; or that there’s a purpose to everything. We know that of course. But at that moment, that’s not what we need to hear. What we feel in that moment is that nothing matters except the moment and its pain.

The most helpful thing we can do is to contain the moment and gain some perspective, even distance from the pain.

The fastest path to that wisdom is gratitude. This is not about being grateful for the pain. In fact, sometimes it’s about anything but the pain. Sometimes we need to rest the eyes of our soul for a moment. We need a life lens that takes away the harsh painful glare. Simple gratitude can do that for us.

However, I know from personal experience that gratitude will not always come naturally. It too is a skill that must be honed and developed. It is also one of the most vital prerequisites for resilience.

If we are not grateful we will not see the point in creating good. In the end, that’s what gratitude is really about – finding the good.

It may not be about everything in the moment, but it can be about something.

I remember during some dark days when it took all of my strength just to get through the day that the corner of light was always there because of gratitude. It was my diversion from pain to peace. Even if just for a moment, it immersed me in something outside of the pain.

Taking time to seek the good and be grateful begins to balance the scales.

It was during these days that I began a life practice that still sustains me now and that is my gratitude journal. Each day I express gratitude. A journal is a natural expression for me as a writer. It can take many forms but once we develop this life practice the skill becomes a part of us and something very special begins to happen.

We begin to seek the good in everything. We search for those reminders and we find them. After all, whatever it is we seek, that is what we find.

This is what begins to establish a life that is centered around gratitude as a core value. It takes us beyond the moment and into a deeper and richer experience of life. When someone asks how I am able to see possibilities where others may not, it usually comes back to this. When we begin to seek the good, we begin to find it. Not only in those days and times as an antidote to pain, but everyday and how we see our world overall.

Our thoughts are like magnets. When they are about what is good, that will be what we attract. Even when on the surface, we may not see it. The good is there. And we will find it. That’s the power of gratitude. It changes our perspective about pain but even more, it changes our perspective about life.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be. Live well.

 

Do you have what it takes?

It’s a question that in some form we often ask.

What will it take to do something, have something, be something?

What will it take to have more of something, less of something or be done with it altogether?

What will it take? Do I have it?

 

When I stopped to really consider where I have succeeded in attaining a goal and where it has alluded me, I found that there were five things that have made a significant difference. A few of them surprised me but as they say, success leaves clues and these have proven themselves by their presence many times over. It is less about what it takes in terms of what we do, and more of what it takes for who we need to be.

#1 – Be comfortable being a beginner

Quite often when we have already achieved success in some area of our life we tend to get comfortable being in that “attainment” mode. But that holds us back.  To move on to what is next, we must be willing to once again be that beginner. What does that mean? It means recognizing there is still so much to take in. It means staying curious. It means recognizing that to be valued as a teacher, we must continuously seek deeper value as a student.

#2 – Embrace being yourself

It is quite possible, perhaps even advisable to follow a prescribed path to get somewhere. But it would be invalid to think that it would be the only way to get there. The path we choose is just that, a choice. There is only one way to fully embrace our individuality and value and that is by taking responsibility for ourselves and determining the value we want to create. Those that go far beyond success and attain significance in their impact and influence are those that take responsibility for their part of the story. We must first embrace ourselves before we can truly embrace the world and influence others. What determines if you have what it takes? It isn’t  a what, it’s a who. And the who is you.

#3- Relish making a choice

Those able to continuously move into their best place for success have this as a distinctive part of their modus operandi. They choose. And they choose timely. Because no choice is still a choice. Not saying yes is the equivalent of no. Indecision is indeed a myth.

The most critical insight for me was recognizing that how we handle the seemingly small choices in life is the best predictor of how we will manage the more significant opportunities. If we aren’t making good choices within our day, ultimately that shows up as ineffective choices for our lives.

#4- Crave mastery

Competition is not something that drives me. In fact, I tend to reject any situations that have a highly competitive energy. It just doesn’t resonate with me. But I am highly driven. Gaining an understanding of that distinction was invaluable for me. What drives me? Mastering my craft. Learning something well and finding even greater depths and capacity within myself. Good can be the enemy of great when greatness is the real goal. Regardless of what we choose as our form of measurement, the desired result is the same: Mastery – Being the absolute best we can be.

#5- Live from a place of gratitude

This has been the most significant constant throughout the best experiences in my life. Gratitude is not just being appreciative of what someone does for us. Gratitude is a recognition of everything that has made good possible. It is a constant seeking of the good in order to show our appreciation for it, celebrate it. In his program MindHack, David Bayer teaches that gratitude in its basic form is energy. That was such a profound image to soak in. Living from a state of gratitude, a state of grace is living from the purest form of energy available to us.

Imagine these thoughts as a mantra, a manifesto for your life. That’s what I’m working toward in mine just now. Since our true legacy will be determined by how we live rather than what we leave, I am seeking qualities that are worthy.

It’s interesting to me as well that the same things that are true for ourselves as individuals for making a difference are also true as a foundation for bringing together those that we lead.

Imagine a group that is committed to constant curiosity and growth, willing to stake their uniqueness in the world, take the risks that will propel them into greatness, do the work that will sustain that position and ultimately celebrate everything and everyone that made it all possible.

My bet would be that they would indeed have what it takes.

Do you have your finish line in view?

Laughman_Oct 2015_Article 4_Finish lineAs the calendar rolled over to 2018, I was reminded anew that time waits for no one. It seems on some days, especially not for me. I’m sure you have experienced similar feelings. When we begin our year we have such grand plans! We claim the year as our time and we are filled with nearly giddy excitement about all of the accomplishments we will be celebrating in the coming months. All too often though it doesn’t take long for the realities of life to bring us back “down to earth” and what we envisioned starts to fade.

One crucial life lesson is that deciding what we want, even how to get it is only part of getting us to where we want to be.  To be successful there is another element required: Knowing why we are doing what we plan to do. Without that clear motivation– we will lack an essential element we need to sustain us through to success. And one thing that has proven true in every case I know is that when we don’t keep going, we stop going. Knowing why we are doing something is the glue that holds everything together.

But how does motivation work? How do you know it’s going to hold? While there are many illustrations, my experience has shown that it comes down to these 5 essential principals:

  1. Sometimes the work is hard. It’s really that simple. Sometimes the work is hard. And we need to be certain we can stick with it. Jim Rohn taught that when the promise is clear, the price is easy. When the price begins to get hard, the promise is what pulls us through.
  2. Sometimes the work takes time. The emotion of the moment when we committed to something can and will fade over time if we don’t bring it back, even if not at the same sensory level. I was recently reminded that there is very little that is action dependent that does not require some constancy, even daily re-commitment to that action. Whether it’s our health, money, work or relationships. Our motivation (why) is what creates the power we need to keep making the commitment over time.
  3. Sometimes the work needs to change. This is an important one to think about. Sometimes the method we choose to do something doesn’t bring us the result we wanted. That’s not failure. That’s experience. Without knowing why we were doing it in the first place, we don’t have the ultimate creative pool to work from for finding our next strategy and getting it in place. The why keeps us focused in the RIGHT direction, even if we change the vehicle we’re riding to reach the destination.
  4. Sometimes the work requires help. When we are clear about why we are doing something our enthusiasm and passion are evident and infectious. Others will not only respond to requests for help – they will volunteer! There is nothing more binding and bonding than a shared desire to transform something for good. Even if they don’t know, like and trust you yet, if your why is clear and they can align to that, it can actually be the catalyst for the best relationships.
  5. Sometimes the work requires a choice. This point goes beyond the first one where we talked about work being hard at times. This is about sacrifice. This is about choice. If you do THIS (something that honors your why) then you cannot do THAT (something else you really want to do!). It’s called opportunity cost. The promise being clear is still part of the rationale on this but it goes deeper because you are making a conscious choice to not only have something, but also to give something up. If the value equation isn’t clear, those choices can get very difficult.

Having the right motivation makes a difference in getting started but it makes all the difference for staying started. And one thing is certain: We can and will have more than one start along the way.

How to put this to work? Choose one area of your life (health, finances, work, relationships, community) where in the past you have struggled staying on track with your goal and action settings. Go through a series of questions focused on the word why to get to your core reason for what you are doing. That is the promise. Don’t take your first response. Why? Because chances are fairly high that it is not your real reason. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a number of times to get to your true motivator. In the words of Pat Riley, “A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.”

You’ll know you are there when you can take that reason and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this reason strong enough to keep me going when it’s hard?
  2. Is this reason strong enough to keep me going when this takes a long time?
  3. Is this reason strong enough to challenge me to always find a way?
  4. Is this reason strong enough to allow others to see the value in the work?
  5. Is this reason strong enough to support the right choices along the way, even when it means a sacrifice?

When you get to five yeses – you are there! More importantly, you know you’re going to be able to begin and experience the journey to go to your desired place of achievement with joy and ease.

Live today like you want tomorrow to be. Live well!

The Journey – Poetry, Music and Imagery

Ionian islandsOne of my favorite poems remains Cavafy’s “Ithaca”.

I re-visit it the final week of each year in my personal reflections of the time passed and the promise of what is yet to come.

Here it is read by Sean Connery accompanied by Vangelis’s incomparable score with stunning backgrounds to transport us.

While there are many interpretations of this work, its essence is that the journey and the destination both matter.  The beliefs we take with us on the journey about our destination will determine much about the experience.  And the depth to which we experience the journey, will only serve to help us better understand the true value of our destination once we arrive.

I have found success works like this.  We each define what success means to us and set out on our journey to reach it.  By the time we arrive, it will have changed.  Because we will have changed from the journey and gained new understandings.

As Jim Rohn taught, more important than the goal itself is the person we must become to attain it. That is the essence and story of Ithaca for me. It’s a reminder to choose our destinations carefully and then travel well.

ITHACA [1910, 1911]

As you set out for Ithaca hope that your journey is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare sensation touches your spirit and your body. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind- as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so that you’re old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich. Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would have not set out. She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.