Freeing Yourself


The power of the pictures we paint in our mind can be the catalyst that either traps us or sets us free.  Here is a powerful picture that will help you free yourself.  

There is a fundamental way that most of us see the world and it keeps us trapped.  When we decide we want to improve ourselves, we unconsciously picture a hierarchy.  Way up and out there is the weight of the world, and everything going on.  Then there is our thinking self who is struggling under the weight of the world.  Finally there is this core being that is our true self who is under the weight of the world and everything we think about it. 

If this is the way we picture the world, how will we ever be able to lift or get out from under the weight and change our circumstances?   This is the lie that traps us.

Get a picture of this hierarchy clearly in your mind.  Now turn it upside down, putting who you truly are at the top of the hierarchy.  We are not done yet, otherwise you might get the idea you are God, and the whole world is subject to you.  The truth is that when you are at the top of the hierarchy it frees you to move up and down and around the hierarchy.  It allows you to detach who you truly are from the rest of the hierarchy.  This frees you to move about to the areas where you can make a positive difference.  

The key to making this picture serve you, is to keep your head out of the past and the future, and only deal with what is in front of you right now.   Almost every post on this blog repeats the idea that “You are not your thoughts, your past, or how you feel.”  You are so much more than that. This is the truth that freed me. If you can turn this picture upside down, and discover this truth for yourself you will be free.   

How We Make a Difference


When we think about those who make a difference in the world we tend to think about the renowned and famous of the world.  The thing we should always keep in mind is that they are one person just like we are, and the real difference in the world is made by hundreds of millions of people who are equipped with the means to help others in some way.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta was known for having the attitude of helping one person at a time.  Even if that help was just comfort in the final moments of one person’s life.  Countless others looked to her as an example and helped countless other people as a result of that inspiration.  She had this impact by focusing on one person at a time, and did not seek out attention to herself.     

Mother Teresa understood the point I am trying to make today.  We should not endeavor to necessarily be the difference makers for the world.  Instead we should endeavor to help people one at a time.  We are all connected at a much closer level than we know.  “Six Degrees of Separation” shows that there are six degrees of separation between you and everyone else in the world.  Helping just one person could greatly impact the lives of countless others.  We are more effective in helping others if we keep our focus on helping one person at a time to the best of our ability.

We likely won’t know all of those we had a hand in helping, but we will know we did the best we could for each person we encountered. If we do that it will bear fruit in our lives.  One of the most desirable results of this idea is that you have less to stress about, but your impact is much greater in the long run.  This is an idea that is counterintuitive to many and they doubt that focusing on one person at a time is the most effective way.  Even those who lead the largest most successful companies in the world, would have never grown to that size were it not for a handful of individuals.  Some even contribute their success to a single idea by one influential person in their lives.  We indeed make a difference one person at a time. 

Accepting Reality


What does it mean to accept reality, and how can learning to do this make a positive impact in your life? Accepting reality doesn’t mean you don’t act on anything. What you do about what happens is a completely different conversation.  The mistake that we usually make in accepting reality, is the definition of reality.  Reality is not our thoughts and responses about what happens.  It is the physical event that occurred. How you feel about it is a separate conversation.  Separating the physical event from what you think about it is the key to the power of accepting reality. 

Sometimes when a negative experience happens we just react to it. We act on it without thought and it ends up creating negative circumstances in our lives.  We are still left with the feelings of the event.  How can we short circuit reality from creating carnage in our lives?  

When a negative event happens, it isn’t a one step process to accept it.  There are a series of events that occur.  This is how I see accepting the reality of one of those events. 

  1. Something negative happens.
  2. Acknowledge that the physical event happened, but don’t add your own thoughts to it.
  3. Really notice and get curious about the feelings that come up, instead of reacting. 
  4. Accept the way you feel about it. 
  5. Decide how you are going to move forward. 

Acknowledge Reality 

The way you see an event would be perceived at least slightly differently by almost every one of the other 8 billion people on planet earth.  You may have friends who nothing seems to bother, and others who seem to be bothered by every little thing.  The same event causes no disturbance for the first group, but for the second group it is like the end of the world.  My point here is that reality is not influenced by how we see it. 

Curiosity

This is the key to stopping negative events from having long term negative consequences on you.  When you notice you are feeling a negative emotion, really focus on how it feels in the moment instead of reacting to it or adding your own thoughts.  This might sound weird, but try to sense where you feel the emotion in your body.  Get curious about it, like it has something to tell you because it does.  Once you acknowledge something in this way it greatly reduces and sometimes eliminates the feeling.  This is also helpful with minor physical pain.

Acceptance

When we experience negative emotions our natural reaction is to push them down and away from us.  The human mind doesn’t work like that.  When you push something down the only thing you can be sure of is that it will resurface at some point.  Think about how trauma impacts a person.  The most impacted people are those who have pushed down their emotions.  Instead of pushing down your emotions, acknowledge them, take a deep breath, and accept them.  You are not your emotions, you are the one who feels them.  That says something about your biology and life experiences, but it says nothing about who you truly are.  You are not your thoughts, your past, or how you feel.

Decision

Now it is time to decide if there is anything you should do about what happened.  Some believe that accepting reality is like accepting defeat, but nothing could be further from the truth.  If anything, it gives you the ability to make clear rational decisions about what you might want to do next if anything.

This Too Shall Pass


I thought this would be a good opportunity to share this blog post. Have you ever had one of those days where you were just discouraged and feeling really insecure? As I sit and start to write this blog post, I am there. I went to the gym this morning, and then came home and tried to get some things done, and had a very frustrating day. I just didn’t do well at what I was working on and ended up wasting a lot of time.  The negative thoughts really started to dig in without my immediate awareness. You know that voice that quietly asks you questions like, who are you to think you can do this right? 

I learned something a few years ago. “This too shall pass.” Your body is complicated. The events of the day,  and your brain and its biology can coalesce into a recipe for a bad day. The difference is what you decide to do with it.  Those who won’t admit to having days like this will lie about other things too.  There is a process that you can use to get out from under down days. 

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you are struggling and that it’s OK.  Treat yourself like someone else you are responsible for encouraging in this way.   
  2. Get curious about the negative feelings.  Don’t think about them, just notice how it feels in your body and your psyche.  
  3. Review what happened at a high level.  Maybe make a list of the events that happened.  Don’t get too deep, and don’t start judging yourself. This often uncovers the otherwise obvious.
  4. At this point, get up and do something even if you don’t want to.  
  5. Just keep going until it passes.

The most important thing to remember when you are having one of these days, is that “this too shall pass.”  One thing older entrepreneurs and investors know very well is that business and markets go up and down.  So will our lives. Some periods of time are good and others aren’t.  We all go through seasons. Things happen outside of our control. It is OK to have a down day, or periods of time surrounding a bad event.  What matters is what you do with it.

Awareness Builds Momentum


Bringing awareness into your life is a process, it isn’t something that happens overnight.  It isn’t something that intense effort will bring you.  While awareness practices can be found in every religious tradition from Christianity to Zen Buddhism, the awareness I am talking about here is a practical approach for quieting the mind. This will allow you to sense your environment in a way that will help you grow awareness.  

One of the primary problems we face is that we are constantly reacting to things in our environment. We can’t help but to judge them on some level.  True awareness comes when you can learn to quiet your mind and not immediately add your own thoughts to everything that happens to you.  

The first step in achieving this is learning that we are separate from those autonomous reactions created by our brain and biology.  Notice the thoughts that come up when something happens in your environment.  We don’t choose to think these thoughts. They just arise naturally.  It is your ability to stand outside those thoughts that is awareness.  We rarely question those thoughts, even though they could be a result of past events that we wrongly judged.  If we can just experience our environment without adding our own thoughts we can add a level of insight.  This insight can cause exponential growth in our lives.  It is often like we are experiencing things for the first time, that we have experienced many times before.

This is an ongoing process for me.  I stumbled on this idea, in an effort to improve my attention.  I heard a Youtuber say something that really hit home for me.  “You can’t pay attention, because no one ever taught you how.”  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone told me to pay attention growing up, but never offered to show me how.  It is possible that I would be very wealthy.  

So how do you learn to pay attention?  The answer is pretty simple.  You start by  intentionally setting aside five or ten minutes a couple of times a day to practice paying attention.  Relax and take a few deep slow breaths, and focus on something happening around you.  It can be anything from the noises around you, to two or more people interacting.  You also commit to not adding your own thoughts to it, and watching it like it is the first time you have seen anything like it.  Two or three of these daily mindfulness breaks could help you to begin a significant growth journey. 

I am sharing this with you, because this is one of the things that turned the direction of my life around.  I was being held back by a lot of self critical thoughts that I just assumed were true.  Once I became aware of the thoughts that were coming up, I naturally started questioning them.  This process allowed me to see that we are truly, not our thoughts, how we feel, or our past.  Once I started to see that 90% of these thoughts had no foundation in reality, my life began to change in positive ways.  I believe yours will too. 

If you would like to explore this idea further, you can take advantage of a free, no strings attached thirty minute life coaching consultation.

The Real Source of Positive Change


Just under the label of self help alone, there are nearly 90,000 books in print. Then you can just keep adding labels, like success, spirituality, motivation, and the list goes on and on.  My point is that we have more books available to us than we could read in a lifetime.  So how many of those books do you need to make a positive change in your life?  The answer is “ZERO”.  Yes it is true that most leaders read, and it is also true that some of the information in these kinds of books are very useful.  I read self help books.  The problem is that some of us get the idea that we need these kinds of books to succeed.  Sometimes we also get the idea that we are going to prepare ourselves for massive change overnight.  While change happens in an instant, getting ourselves to the place where we are ready to make those changes doesn’t work like that. 

Here are three of the things I believe to be the real catalysts for positive change.  

Awareness Without Assumptions

Awareness of the present moment is one of the most overlooked treasure troves for living a better life.  We tend to live too much of our lives in thoughts of the past and future.  We think about what didn’t work in the past, and how we need to do better in the future.  Pay attention to where your awareness is.  Are you thinking about the past or future?  How much of your energy do you spend being aware in the present moment, and not reliving the past or thinking about the future?  

This week try to devote thirty minutes in the morning reflection and planning for the day.  Other than these thirty minutes, pay attention to the present moment.  Without putting stress on yourself just carefully observe what is going on around you, and the process of doing what needs to be done.  Don’t make assumptions about meaning or outcome.  The present moment has many things to tell you if you are just aware.  If you catch your mind wandering back to the past or into the future, just gently bring it back to the present moment. 

We also need to be aware when we are making assumptions about things.  Is it true that the best scientists in the world know gravity?  The truth is that scientists can measure the effects of gravity but we have no earthly idea, what gravity is, why it is, or where it came from.  When we notice things our brain puts a label on them.  When we label them, we think we know them.  

When you are doing this exercise to focus on being aware, don’t make any assumptions about what you see in the present moment.  Just keep a sense of curiosity.  Instead of making assumptions, ask questions about what you are seeing.  Good questions begin with something like “Is it possible that…?”, or “What if…?.  Asking these kinds of questions about everything around us, will help us not to make the assumption that we know what it all means.  

One piece of awareness that has helped me greatly both physically and mentaly is learning to be aware of my breath.  When I am not aware of the present moment while I am working I tend to breathe quick shallow breaths.  When we breathe shallow breaths we greatly increase the likelihood of anxiety, and a wandering mind.  When we breathe slowly and deeply our bodies will naturally calm down.  If you want to test this out for yourself just stop what you are doing and take six deep, slow breaths.  You will notice a sense of relaxation.  Paying attention to your breath will also keep you mind out of the past and future.  The breath is a common anchor used in meditation.   

Be Grateful

Because we are constantly living in the past and anxious about the future, we find it very difficult to be grateful.  Once we start living in the present moment we can find all kinds of things to be grateful for.  It can be difficult to be grateful when we are faced with life’s problems, but even then we can find things in the moment to be grateful for.  

I don’t believe in silver bullets for success, but the idea I am about to share is powerful.  It is a primary reason that most goal setting doesn’t work.  Let’s say you set a goal to have a million dollars in the bank.  Your mind will imagine all the ways it would make you happy.  You begin to obsess on that goal.   You desire a million dollars so much that you lose everything you have to be grateful for. You feel the lack of not having a million dollars.  Now when you actually have to work hard, you feel discouraged.

No matter what your goal is, remember to work hard to find things you are grateful for along the way.  Maybe instead of setting a goal for a million dollars, try to set a goal to add a million dollars worth of value to others.  With this kind of goal you will find it easier to be grateful, and what you desire won’t make you lose what you have.

This is hard for some people, but sit down and write down all the things you have to be grateful for.  

Bias for Action

Nothing gets done unless someone does it.  Once you are aware of your environment, aware of what needs done, and have gratitude it is time to do something.  Earlier in the post I mentioned one reason that most goal setting fails.  Lack of action is the natural result of lack of motivation and purpose.  Having a sense of lack is one of the reasons we get discouraged and don’t act. We get discouraged because our minds are thinking about a past failure, or fearing a future failure. 

Once we have a goal, a daily task, we can then start doing it.  It is important to remember to keep our thoughts out of the past and future, and just focus on the task at hand.  Be curious about what you are doing and be aware of the results you are getting in the moment. 

Summary

You don’t need any books or programs to improve the quality of your life.  Just look within and in the present moment.  Early in the post I made the statement that the present moment has a lot to tell you.  If we can be fully aware of the moment we can act without the weight of the past and future, and be much more effective.   

If you are interested in talking further about improving the quality of your life, feel free to take advantage of a free thirty minute consultation.  

Toxic Self Help


If you are a regular consumer of self help content, I would encourage you to watch James Jani’s “Toxic Self Help” video at the end of this post. Well written self help books can make us feel good, and give us a dopamine boost. We momentarily feel better. We set out to change our lives, only to end up frustrated again. The cycle takes us back to our next self help book. I was caught up in this cycle in my late twenties. I bought more of these self help books and programs, than I should have. It all lead to more frustration.

I want to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I have read some great books, and picked up some good information even from the bad ones. Much of it I still use today. The problem is not reading the books, it is believing that any book or program will be the catalyst to transform your life. Any real success is going to come by taking right consistent action over a period of time. You don’t need a book for that, but there is definitely useful information you can take from them.

If you find yourself relating to James’ video stop buying self help books, and move forward with what you already know. Feel free to contact me here. You can use a free thirty minute consult to chart a new course.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road


One thing that I am very aware of when writing these blog posts, is that it is easy to talk about achieving great things.  It is another matter entirely to actually make things happen.  When we plan, talk, and write about success, we meet with minimal resistance. When we get out there and start moving we meet with real resistance.  

Here are a few tips to help you move forward.  

  1. Take Immediate Action

Mel Robbins wrote a book titled “The Five Second Rule”. It is a great book.  The important takeaway from the book is that from the moment you decide you want to do something, it takes your mind about five seconds to realize you are going to do something uncomfortable. Once that happens it will do what it can to keep you from being uncomfortable.  It is a short book, a good read, and one of the most practical and effective books I have read on getting yourself to act.  Take action on your goals within five seconds of getting the urge.  Mel Robbins recommends counting down from five like you are a rocket about to blast off.

  1. Question Your Negative Thoughts

We all have moments of self-doubt.  That is especially true when we are fighting to do something that our mind continues to tell us we can’t.  When this happens, ask, “What if that voice is wrong?”  Follow that up with, “is it possible that if I take this course of action, I can overcome this self-doubt and get it done?  The truth is that all you need to do to make things happen is take the right action.  You are not those thoughts, and if you do what you know will work, you will get results.  Those negative thoughts are not true, and you can prove it by acting in spite of them.  If for some reason you fail, try again.  It took Thomas Edison ten thousand “failures” to invent the electric light bulb.  Did he fail? 

  1. Perform your tasks Mindfully

One of the things that makes it easier to think and talk about doing something than actually doing is chaos.  When you set out to do something hard and worth doing, there are usually a lot of moving pieces.  On top of that our minds are busy worrying about the outcome, and we put unneccesary pressure on ourselves.  The way to overcome this is to take a couple of deep breaths right before you start something, and deliberately and mindfully focus on the task.  Paying attention to every step.  If your mind starts to get busy, take another couple of deep breaths, and get back to doing the task mindfully.  Rinse and repeat.  This one takes a lot of practice, but I promise it works. 

Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Ben Rothlisburger, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rogers all share one trait. This trait is a big part of what makes them great quarterbacks.  It is their ability to act in the chaos on the field, and stay keenly aware of their environment.  There are Quarterbacks who exceed their purely athletic abilities, and yet you will never hear their name.

These great quarterbacks have not always had the necessary ability to deal with chaos on the field.  They practice endlessly and have lots of hours on the field in live play.  Becoming intimate with the experience is one of the components that gives them this ability to remain mostly calm in chaos.  There is something else though.

They all realize that they can’t be great alone, and understand that the pressure is spread across the field of play.  They depend and invest in their teammates, and use their coaches to see what they can’t. Before we can become great at anything we have to practice.  We also have to find teammates and coaches, and give them our best in exchange for theirs.    

Five Things You Wouldn’t Normally Do


Lives have been transformed by doing things we wouldn’t normally do..  I would like to challenge you this week to do five things you wouldn’t normally do. They can be as simple as changing up where you go for lunch.  You could also go to the other end of the spectrum and go skydiving.  Maybe this weekend you can grab the family and go to the go-kart track, or the tennis courts.

Why have so many lives been changed by this simple exercise?  Our minds tend to consistently guide us down the same path.  Have you heard of being stuck in a rut?  The rut is the normal mode of operation for your unconscious mind.  Have you repeatedly tried to start something new, and a few weeks later you are still doing the things you have always done?

We often don’t pick up on it, but our brains will take the path of least resistance.  The obvious path of least resistance is to do what you have always done.  By doing even small things differently than you normally would, can have a life changing impact.

If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got. 

– Zig Ziglar

Changing our daily decisions slightly will train our brain, by helping us to notice our brains taking us down the same path over and over again.  One of the biggest obstacles to creating real change in our lives is our natural desire to stay the same.  If you don’t like change, you are in good company.  Most of us don’t like change and don’t want to get out of our comfort zones.  Unfortunately comfort rarely gets us where we want to be.  

Don’t ignore this post, and please let me know how it goes for you.  You can drop me a note here.

Things That Have to Get Done


All of us have those things in our lives that we have to get done.  Sometimes we don’t want to do them.  Can you think of something that you don’t like to do, but it has to be done anyway?  Here is something that has helped me to make that process much easier. Today’s post is short, but worth giving a try.   

Pick a small daily or weekly task that you don’t like to do, but will need to do.  It could be something as simple as making the bed, cleaning your office, or attending a regular meeting.  When the time comes and you feel that sense of dread, notice the thoughts you are thinking about doing the task.  Make a decision not to react to the thoughts, and accept the task as something that you are just going to do. When you start doing the task or walk into the meeting, don’t add your thoughts to it.  Simply pay close attention to every detail of doing the task.  Get curious about the task, not how you feel about doing the task.  Do it mindfully and deliberately, paying attention to every step.  

This method is supported by the fact that most of the pain associated with doing these tasks comes from our mind.  Many times the tasks aren’t terrible, it is just our thoughts about them that are terrible.  Mark Twain was reported to have said, “I have had a lot of troubles in life, and some of them even happened.” In saying this he was bringing to light the fact that we are most of the cause for our own mental worry and suffering.  Think about things you have worried about that never happened.

Somewhere along the way we label the specific task as bad, and our mind just reminds us every time we have to do it.  Maybe when we first did the task we were having a bad day, and associated that having a bad day with the task.  Now everytime we have to do that, the same negative feeling comes back.  

Doing things without adding our own thoughts and just paying attention to doing the task, is a great way to make life a little easier.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.