Habits Posts

The Problem Habit

The Problem Habit

How can we know if we are hooked on problems? Do you find that your life is full of problems and the issues never seem to stop piling up? The house needs cleaning, the yard needs mowing, you’re late for work, the kids are sick, someone cut you off on the road, you spilled coffee on your new suit, the dog threw up everywhere, we’re low on groceries, PTA is tonight, one kid needs braces, the other kid needs glasses, you need to be in two places at once, your clothes don’t fit, the shower is broken, your mother-in-law is mean, kid’s teacher is terrible, debt is mounting, the car battery died, etc.  Did you know there are people in the world that must walk many miles each day to harvest clean water for their family? Let’s put it all into perspective.

Our urge to manifest problems is entirely and naturally up to us. Millions of years ago, each day was a matter of life and death. We had to be on edge for survival. Today, our chances of actually dying depend on things like age, health, and occupation. On average, a 46-year-old male has a 34% chance of dying within one year, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary. If you are female, the odds of dying at 46 within a year are 22%. Nowadays, we aren’t worried about dying as we go to retrieve our groceries, so we make stuff up.

Two human needs tend to drive our thinking and actions. The first is a need for significance.  This is our desire to feel important or worthy of others’ attention. This desire for significance manifests itself in all sorts of ways, including a big house, fancy cars, rank in our company, board positions, etc. This need also triggers the compare and despair problem that so many suffer as a result of social media usage. The second major human need is a need for validation.  We want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. This need for validation is where we tend to begin manifesting problems. For one reason or another, we tend to connect through commiseration. We start conversations with negative or derogatory comments about the weather or the wait service. If we are employees of the same company, it is about some stupid policy that management recently implemented. We attempt to build our status by cutting others down. It is unfortunate when you think about it, yet I find myself doing it from time to time, despite being on the lookout for this kind of negative behavior. We use it to validate our lack of progress, miserable existence, a bad marriage, or awful job. We use negativity to justify our lack of progress toward our dreams. It is a way of deflecting reality and blaming others or institutions. The need for validation within each of us must be tamed in order to live our best lives.

We take the day-to-day responsibilities that we have chosen to bring into our lives and turn them into problems. We complain to our friends and coworkers, seeking validation rather than guidance. They might have the same issues and misery loves company.

Here are a few ideas to help escape the problem habit:

Count your blessings.

It is nearly impossible to be miserable and grateful simultaneously. Begin each day reviewing a list of things in your life for which you are grateful. Make a list right now. Do you have a loving family? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have a job? My guess is you don’t have to walk five miles for clean water, so if you are struggling to find something, start there.

Check your relationships.

Misery loves company. Are you spending time with people that have a positive growth mindset?  If the people you are spending time with are negative, put others down, gossip, or focus on all that is wrong with the world, it might be time to find a new set of friends. Jim Rohn tells us that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so take inventory and stay alert.

Watch your mouth.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor Frankl

We have a choice of which words to speak and thoughts to think. Most of our words and our thoughts should be focused on making things better. Negativity is easy because others are quick to jump on the bandwagon. You have the ability to direct your thoughts and regulate your words. Mature adults accept responsibility for all aspects of their lives and therefore live in greater harmony with the world around them.

Breaking the cycle of negativity in your life is a choice. After deciding to stop fixating on problems, you can acknowledge the many blessings in your life. Get around people that will lift you up. Choose your words and thoughts intentionally. The happiest people choose positivity over negativity and surround themselves with others that align with their values. It is up to you to kick that problem habit to the curb.

Manage Your Thoughts

Manage Your Thoughts

The mind is a gift and a curse, both stemming from the free will to choose. Humans are organisms with complete autonomy. You are the driver. Are you in control of your thoughts? What excuses do you regularly allow to stop your progress? The choice always lies in your response. Free will is the ability to accept reality and move on. You must take responsibility for your response because the response is the choice that determines your future. The greatest of battles are fought between our ears. What saddens me personally is the number of people I witness losing the battle. People that have all they need but are depressed and miserable. We are taught how to produce and solve problems but are never thoroughly instructed on managing our thoughts.

We control our thoughts.
Thoughts control our feelings.
Feelings drive our behavior.
Behavior determines our results.

Most of us live in the space between what we want versus what we have. Our “compare and despair” society exacerbate this feeling of inadequacy or frustration. We put pressure on ourselves to appear as what we think the world wants us to be versus who we really are. We are perpetually unhappy because all we can see is what we don’t have, and external forces are constantly battling for your attention and money (government, media, corporations).

How do we begin to gain control of our thoughts?

Accept Responsibility

An essential step in gaining control of your mind is to accept responsibility for everything in your life. When we take responsibility, it is like lifting a burden that has been buried deep inside of us. Every relationship in your life is yours. You can choose your attitude toward the other person, and so you are responsible for how you show up in the relationship. You can’t control how they show up and, therefore, should not burden your heart with hurt or anger. All we can ever do is our best. This is trite but especially true in our relationships. Accept responsibility for how you show up and accept the reality of the relationship. You might not like it, but it is what it is for now. Don’t like your job? Own it. Do your best and search for options. Don’t enjoy your living conditions? Make a plan for change. Don’t like your health? Start by getting around healthy people. Take charge of your life. The accepting of responsibility for everything in our lives is how we begin to take control of our lives.

Be Grateful

Be grateful for all aspects of your life. Not much to be thankful for? The likely reason is that you are obsessing over what you don’t have or, worse yet, comparing what you have to what others have. First, we have no idea what the persons’ life is truly like that we are envying. All the world is a stage, and we don’t know what goes on behind the curtain. Second, comparing our lives to others means that we did not act on step one. We take our lives for granted, not realizing that each life is a miracle. Regardless of your station in life, there is much to be grateful for. The only strategy I am aware of to truly live with joy in our hearts is to be grateful for everything. Don’t like your car? Be thankful you have a car. Don’t enjoy your home? Be grateful you have a place to stay. Getting control of our mind and living with joy requires gratitude for what we already have.

Reflect

Taking time to look back at our progress is critically important to our mental wellbeing. Why? Because most of us live in the space between what we want (the ideal) and what we have (the reality). Taking time to reflect allows us to see where we have come from. We have learned many lessons. We have made significant progress in our lives, but fail to reflect on that progress. Give yourself a break. Look back and acknowledge the effort that has allowed you to arrive where you are regardless of whether you like where you are.

Give Yourself Grace

Who is it that resides in our head to make us feel terrible about ourselves, constantly nagging us for not being enough or slacking. The words it speaks to us are demoralizing and demotivating. Here is the deal – we own that voice, and we have power over it. You have the ability to bring back the narrative that takes place within you. Giving yourself grace for your mistakes is a powerful action to take charge of your life. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Learn from your mistakes and move on. This is how we build resilience. Don’t wallow in self-pity, and when you do, get up and dust yourself off.

Demonstrate Appreciation

I have often said that appreciation is selfish because it feels so good. It feels good to the receiver (if they allow themselves grace to accept it) and the sender (assuming it was genuinely shared). Start with your loved ones. Write them a note expressing how much you appreciate them. Some ask – what is the difference between gratitude and appreciation? Gratitude is more of an inward focus, and appreciation is an outward expression. This can be debated and is only my differentiation, but there is a difference. Saying “thank you” is appreciation. Offering unsolicited praise is a demonstration of appreciation. Flowers, cards, and cupcakes are all easy ways to let someone know how much you appreciate them. Showing appreciation feels so good.

Stop Seeking Fault

There is no reward for finding the flaws. This is a real problem that can go undetected. We use the faults in others as our crutch for connection. We want others to think highly of us and that we are smart, so we point out the flaws of others, our companies, our friends, our country, our coworkers, our bosses, our homes, our neighbors. The list could go on and on. Do you remember the Wizard of Oz? The man behind the curtain (the wizard) was no different than the others but used his platform to pretend to be all-knowing. How often do you point out the faults of your spouse or your children or your boss? This act does not form a lasting bond with the person you are commiserating with. It is weak because the other person intuitively knows that when they make a mistake, you will be quick to point it out to others. This will be a difficult habit to break, but it will be a must if you are serious about getting control of your thoughts.

Are you ready to take back control of your thoughts? Remember to be patient and give yourself grace. Everything in your life is your responsibility. Every thought you have is your responsibility. If you are feeling trapped, it is time to own your thoughts one day at a time. Form the habits that will mold your future and the future of those that depend on you!

Healthy Choices

Healthy Choices

Exercise

Physical health allows us to have endurance. To be at our best, we need endurance because pushing through to the end is often when it counts the most. The great news is it doesn’t require hours in the gym. It only requires 30 to 45 minutes of your time three or four days per week. Surely you can spare 2 hours per week to increase your overall satisfaction with life. Science has proven that exercise improves our brain function, enhancing our cognitive skills, and helping retention. For many years, I did nothing for exercise. I worked all of the time and had no idea how to manage stress. One Saturday morning, my heart raced, chest hurt, and I lost my eyesight in one eye. At the time, our twin daughters were about four months old, and work was super busy. My recently hired employee, who was living in our spare bedroom at the time, drove me to the hospital. They rushed me right in and hooked me up to the EKG. All of this craziness was stress-induced. They wanted me to take medication and reduce my stress level. Instead, I bought a pair of running shoes and began to run regularly. Eventually, I ran so much that I started running marathons.

Benefits of exercise:

  • Makes you smarter
  • Helps you feel better about yourself
  • Increases your libido
  • Reduces risk of chronic disease (especially as you age because of stronger bones and muscles)
  • Improves your sleep quality

 

Nutrition

Nutrition is all about the fuel that allows your engine to run smoothly. I am no expert on diets but do know that everything in moderation is a great starting point. From ice cream to alcohol, the substances we put in our bodies play a huge role in how we feel. Many of us are living every day with food allergies that we are entirely unaware of. These allergies affect our energy levels and our moods. The recommendation to all is to make a minimal investment in seeing a nutritionist to better understand how foods are impacting your health. Remember, the diet industry is 66 billion dollars, according to Marketdata. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what is the best strategy. I choose not to eat sweets because science indicates it contributes to brain health issues as we age. Otherwise, it is everything in moderation for me.

Mental Health

Mental health has been my most important lesson. It never occurred to me to think of the brain as a muscle (and it is) and exercise it. It took me 40 plus years to realize I had a choice of how to respond in every situation. I went to Purdue University and, as a result, have been a big fan of Purdue Sports. This is especially the case when they play against Indiana University. If they lost, I would get so angry I was ready to fight. How ridiculous was I being!  I was raging mad about something I could not affect. Looking back now, I am utterly embarrassed about this irrational behavior. My lesson was to understand my emotions, recognize them, and ask myself the best way to respond. Now when that driver cuts me off, I am better able to avoid the anger or rage that used to well up. I might ask myself at the end of the day, am I going to remember this incident? The answer is no, so then I move on.

The trigger for me to get control occurred when my twins were two years old. We were on the back porch one beautiful spring day. I had a glass of wine on a side table. One of my daughters, Margo, kept messing with it even after repeated requests for her to leave it alone. As I was helping her sister with something, I heard a crash. It was the wine glass shattered with wine everywhere. She had used her little golf club to push it off the table. I lost it, grabbed the golf club out of her hand, and broke it over my knee. By this time, my wife, who had been inside, slid the sliding door open and stared at me with tears in her eyes. That was my turning point.  I began to study the brain and better understand that in every situation, I have the ability to control my response. I used meditation and trained myself to think before I respond emotionally. Total game-changer for me! If you take nothing else from this article, my hope is this plants the seed for you to better understand your triggers, so you respond in a way that does not compromise you.

Here are some ways to enhance your brain function:

Meditation – the best workout ever for your brain.

Exercise – cardiovascular health improves brain health.

Journaling -This triggers the reticular activating system, which has proven particularly helpful in achieving goals. Struggling for words is a form of exercise for your brain. It is the mental equivalent of a workout. Journaling will also boost your self-confidence and increase your discipline. For me, it has been a wonderful tool for shaping my life and behavior. My strategy for writing has varied over the years. It started with writing my goals down daily and what actions were necessary to achieve them. It then went to more of a day-to-day account of what I was up to and recording my thoughts. Now I focus on gratitude – writing a paragraph about someone I am grateful for having in my life.

The Hamster Wheel of Life

The Hamster Wheel of Life

Over the last year, I have been orchestrating a shift in my business strategy and focus. I keep asking myself – Why? Why would I change? Why should I change? Why do I need more, and why am I so obsessed with growth? Sometimes I just do not have an answer for why. I guess that is okay. Do you ask yourself why regularly? Such a simple question can trigger a profound shift in our perspective. Why do we have to do it this way? Why am I going to work? Why do we teach our kids the way we teach them?

THWL

The more often we ask “Why,” the better are our chances of avoiding “The Hamster Wheel of Life” (THWL). Maybe you are not familiar with THWL. Here is a typical day on THWL – You get up after hitting snooze multiple times, rush to get the kids ready for school and yourself ready for work (this is not without teeth-gnashing and maybe some yelling). You work all day in a job you are not inspired about (but it pays the bills), rush to take the kids here and there, grab dinner on the go, squeeze homework in, mow the yard, take out the trash, pay the bills, and respond to text messages, all before winding down by looking at Facebook or mindless television. Then you go to bed and get up to do it all over again until Friday comes. This is how the overwhelming majority of us live our lives. Why? There are a million answers to this question, but I want you to know from this day forward – You Have A Choice!

I have written before that we always have a choice. The choices might not always seem appealing, but we still have a choice. To think otherwise is to assume the victim mentality in life, which is an even scarier place than THWL. Victims never get off THWL because they are too busy feeling sorry for themselves to recognize that they have a choice.

Serving a Cause

One strategy for escaping THWL is to seek opportunities to serve others. This could be through the church, community, youth services, or volunteering. There are thousands of options for helping others and creating additional meaning in our lives. The stress we experience while on the THWL can often result from not having a clear purpose as to why we are doing what we are doing. It is equivalent to working to a higher target year after year without having a reason beyond obtaining more. Growth for the sake of growth is at the heart of THWL. More stuff increases our obligation and increases the difficulty of exiting THWL.  

We live in a world of instant gratification. We want it now – money, recognition, acceptance, success, vacation, cars, homes…the list goes on. This mentality is what keeps us on THWL. The choice is yours alone. It is a shift in your attitude and habits. It is a shift in the people you are spending your time with. It is a shift in what you are feeding your brain and your body. To live a life of contribution, connection, collaboration, friendship, love, or whatever kind of life you desire to live, you must make a choice and then make the necessary changes. Jumping off THWL can be dangerous, but I know people who have done it and lived to tell about it. I recommend slowing it down over time so that you can step off of it. 

We do not have to live on THWL. There will be times that require us to have the rhythm that THWL provides, but just knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel or a shift in perspective can give us hope and inspire us to make the choices that will create our better future. There is no reason to jump. Just make a choice. Have a clear mission, vision, and operating principals for your life. These will guide you to serve in a way far beyond you. Choose to make a difference.

Attention Please

Attention Please

What separates the average-to-below-average from the above-average-to-exceptional? There can be many qualities that differentiate a person from their peers, but one specific quality that stands out is attention to detail. How many times have you gotten your hair cut? We all know that some cuts have been better than others. Rodney cuts my hair. It takes Rodney 10-15 minutes longer to cut my hair than it takes the other guys in his shop. The difference is attention to detail. 

People that provide a service that we find exceptional pay special attention to the details. Why is it that our experience with most services is average at best? Because paying attention is hard. It takes practice and discipline. Do you want to be exceptional? Here are some techniques for improving your ability to absorb the details.

Observation

The strategy here is simple: take it all in. When you walk into a restaurant or a shop, or anywhere else, observe the layout, the people, the decor, the smell, everything. Pay attention and take it all in. 

Recall

After you leave, write down everything you remember about the place. The key to growing your capacity to pay attention is the recall. Memory is a muscle that must be exercised. The more we use it, the higher our capacity. Numerous studies have validated recall as a key to memory expansion.

Assimilation

Having lots of information means nothing if we are unable to discern what matters most from the inconsequential. Those who are exceptional at what they do have developed the ability to take in lots of detail and quickly determine the best course of action. How? Experience and applying common sense. If a person lacks enough experience to connect the dots, the details are useless. We need context to help determine the next best action.

If the path to excellence looks easy, why isn’t everyone exceptional? Laziness and lack of discipline. Many people say, “I am just not a detailed person.” What they don’t realize is that attention to detail does not mean knowing everything. It is about paying attention when it counts.

When you are focused on a project, you could always have a sense of how much you have left and what next step needs to be completed. Let’s use a simple example: laundry. Yes, you can be exceptional at laundry, and it requires attention to detail. The first step in all projects is to confirm you have all the tools you will need for completion. In this case, the tools are soap, fabric softener, stain remover, and ideally, a functioning washer and dryer. Step two is to sort the laundry according to color and wash type (delicate, etc.). If you are exceptional and paying attention to the detail, during the sorting process, you will assess the condition of the garments for special treatment (extra dirty or stained, inside-out, etc.). Next, you start the washer after selecting the appropriate wash type, pouring the proper amount of soap, and then placing the clothes inside. Attention to detail here means you verified the washer setting, measured the detergent, and did not overload the washer. Step four is removing the laundry from the washing machine, placing them into the dryer, adjusting the settings and adding a dryer sheet. Attention to detail in this step is shaking the clothes out instead of tossing a wet wad of clothes into the dryer. Step five is to fold and stack or iron the clothes once they’re dry, with attention to detail being quick action and neat folding to minimize wrinkles. The last step is putting the clothes away. Excellence is neatly placing into the dresser drawers for easy retrieval and organizing the closet for easy selection.

This may be a silly example, but the point is that there is an exceptional way to do everything. How you do anything is how you do everything. An excellent chef pays attention to everything from the quality of ingredients to whisking time. Outstanding landscapers zero in on the health and shape of the shrub. Notable parents tune into the needs of their children and are quick to adjust their approach based on the situation. There is a saying, “When you are a hammer, everything is a nail.” Those among us that are exceptional at their craft are more like a Swiss Army knife. They assess the situation and apply the appropriate tools.

If you aspire to be exceptional at anything, you must develop the skill of attention to detail. Learn the details that matter most and how they affect the possible outcomes. Attention to detail is not magic and always requires caring. If you don’t care, the details will never click. Do you want to go through life being below-average, or would you rather strive for excellence? Either way, the market and society will reward you accordingly.

Care

Care

I can’t coach caring. People either care, or they don’t. We need a reason to care about others, but we are constantly inundated with messaging that says we should only care about ourselves. What triggers caring?

  • Empathy for others, seeing them as people
  • Necessity or survival
  • Shared mission or purpose
  • Justice

It isn’t practical to care about everything. Most people only care when they have lost or could lose. The problem is that most people “care” about things they can’t control (other people’s actions, the government, what’s happening in the news, etc.). Why do people obsess and care so much about what others are doing?

Humans have mastered the art of distraction in an attempt to draw attention away from their lack of progress. Life is about progression. Nature demonstrates this through growth. How tall will a tree grow? As tall as it can. How much territory will a tiger seek to defend? As much as it can. Nature is always, constantly, and relentlessly pushing against its barriers. It isn’t making excuses or attempting to shift responsibility. Nature always cares because survival depends on it.

Every remarkable achiever throughout history understood that to accomplish their mission, they must progress. They didn’t make excuses or blame others, at least not all of the time. They focused on what they could do to advance their cause, mission, or purpose. They cared and took action. They didn’t allow themselves to get distracted from the pursuit of their mission.

How do you get people to care? 

Sometimes people will care about the well being of others, a cause, or a business, but most people seem wired to only care about themselves. As it relates to others, all they care about is what others think of them. I am not being cynical, but this our current reality. When tragedy strikes, we care about helping others, but most still sit on the sidelines and watch for the responses of others. Terrorism strikes, and people worry about it happening to them rather than caring for the victims. The realization is that caring beyond our own survival must not be a natural tendency for most.

The only logical way to “get” people to care is to make whatever the cause about them. Who are they serving, and how will that service benefit them? How does their work affect their teammates’ ability to do their job? What is in it for them? What do they claim to be passionate about?

Take a few minutes and consider what you care about. Why do you care (motives)? How does your caring benefit you? (emotionally, financially, physically)? Be honest in your answers.

Why do people obsess over others and appear to care so much about what others are doing (even though it doesn’t actually affect them)?

Validation

We all want to be validated, and we seek validation by pointing out the flaws of others. Lack of progress is a major culprit for people that seek validation. Low self-esteem is another reason people tear others down. We don’t want to feel left behind or inadequate, and unfortunately, many people choose to discredit others to validate their situation.

In what ways are you seeking validation from others? How is your need for validation affecting your relationships, work, and career? The antidote to the seeking of validation is demonstrating gratitude, offering compliments, encouraging others, and generally building up other people.

Programming

Our societal narrative is one of outrage, justice, and victimhood. Everyone has a bone to pick. From an early age, we are programmed to worry about what everyone else is doing. When someone gets ahead of the pack, society assumes they have screwed someone or everyone to get there. It begins in childhood very naturally. We measure ourselves versus our peers. We measure beauty, intelligence, privilege, athleticism, etc. We are trained at an early age to compare ourselves to others. The seeds of envy are planted early and direct so many people’s decisions for the rest of their lives. They have no idea they have been programmed from the earliest of ages.

The frog experiment teaches us that a frog placed in a pot of room temperature water will not hop out as the pot and water are heated. It will remain in the water and be boiled to death even though it is capable of hopping to safety. To the frog, all is normal. The majority of society is directed by envy and jealousy. We eagerly desire to hear about a successful or prominent person brought down. Secretly we feel better about ourselves.

Who is doing the programming? Parents, most unknowingly, criticize coworkers, other parents, the government, neighbors, or any person or business that falls short of exceptional. They may even criticize their kids unmercifully. Governments are the worst, and politicians are masters at feeding envy and jealousy. They know that stoking these two emotions, along with fear, will potentially get you to act on their behalf. They use our life long programming to their advantage, and we are none the wiser.

Corporations want you to “compare and despair” because doing so will compel you to buy their products. Marketing is psychological warfare that takes advantage of our life long programming. Don’t be left behind, get an advantage, be the envy of others, demonstrate your uniqueness. Again, they are using our life long programming to act on their behalf.

What do they have in common? They want you to act on their behalf. Parents want you to be better than the other kids so they can feel better about themselves. Government and politicians want compliance. It is the most insidious and disgusting force in our society because it uses envy, jealousy, and fear to manipulate vulnerable citizens. Corporations use the veil of benevolence to sell more products. FOMO (fear of missing out) is the most common strategy for getting us to grab our wallets. It isn’t all bad, but too often, they pretend like they genuinely care until they get your wallet, and then away they go. They cared until they got what they wanted and moved on. Am I overly critical or cynical of these influencers? To be certain, not all are evil or have bad intentions, but most want something from us, and it is wise to understand their motives.

Justification

None of us want to feel bad about ourselves for not living into our full potential, so we criticize and blame others for our lack of progress. Justification should be another word for excuses when it comes to our lack of progress. Blame is an excellent way to deflect. Distraction, validation, and justification are all programming issues. We use them as tools to enhance our excuses. Stop allowing your programming and societal influences to direct your decisions, and instead develop a road map that will take you there. Now take action every day. Most importantly, care about your efforts and ignore everyone else.

If you must for someone else care about your work, your company, your customers, and your coworkers. Genuine caring is a rare quality of most people. Most people only care when they are about to suffer a loss. Fear compels them to care, and as soon as the fear subsides their settle back into a life of complacency. For example, according to a study of 7,519 people that suffered a cardiac event, only 4.3% made changes in their diet, smoking habits, and exercises. They cared enough to seek medical attention at the time of the event but stopped caring (or at least 95.7% of them) after life went back to normal. If you want to live life to your full potential, you will need to care. My mentor, Jim Rohn always said: “If you care a little, you can make a living, and if you care enough, you can make a fortune.” Only you can care about your better future. It starts by recognizing your programming and prejudices. It will also require that you stop looking at others and caring so much about what they are doing. You do you. We only truly live when living our Full Potential. It is our responsibility and how we can serve a higher purpose. It is beyond our internal satisfaction that we begin to live the way we are meant to live.