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Archive for the ‘professional development’ Category

One of the lessons I wish I had learned earlier in life was that my thinking often set up my opportunities. At the very least, my thinking sets up how I perceive events. And how I perceive an event will cause me to look at a situation as an opportunity or a setback.

With the new year, try to be more intentional in your thinking. Our thinking drives how we see the world. In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen wrote,

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

Case in point: look how students respond differently to a tough teacher. Some students see the teacher’s difficulty as a challenge and rise to the occasion. Those students push themselves harder and excel. Others lament the unfairness of the world and wish they had gotten an easier teacher. If anything, they are discouraged; they tend to perform worse, partially because the teacher is more difficult and partially because they don’t apply themselves as much as they would with an easier teacher.

Life is full of unexpected events. We can plan every minute of our day and it all be undone in a second. However, if we are intentional in our thinking, we can respond better to those unexpected events. Also, we can set a direction with which we wish to grow and develop. We formulate a purpose and goals. In this new year, seek to be more intentional in your thinking.

Here’s a poorly kept secret: there’s a lot of systems for personal time management and planning out there, systems like Getting Things Done (GTD), Personal Kanban, Covey’s methods, and the list goes on. All of the “successful systems” start by the participant becoming intentional in his or her thinking and planning. You don’t have to spend money buying a book or taking a class to take this first step.

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“If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?” – Darrelle Revis

Darrelle Revis ESPNWeekend2010-051.jpgDarrelle Revis has had great success, not only on the football field, but also at the negotiating table. ESPN ran a great article on why Revis has achieved his success. That’s where I found this quote. Part of Revis’ success comes from his great belief in himself. Too often, we doubt ourselves. When I was learning about life coaching, one of the first things I came to understand is most people know the answer to their problem. However, they typically lack confidence in themselves. Either they don’t believe they can execute on the answer or they don’t trust its the right answer because they came up with it.

At some point, if you’re going to achieve anything of significance, you have to move past self-doubt. You have to believe in yourself. There’s such a thing as over confidence, but we tend to err on the side of a lack of confidence.

This can be a hard thing for me. However, I learned first hand as a goalkeeper that on the pitch, you pretend confidence, even if you don’t feel it. For instance, the over-aggressive goal keeper can cause an opposing player to make a bad shot, cut off a run, flinch and not complete a header, or simply give up on the ball, even if the keeper can’t actually get to it. When my coach explained this to me, he had me try coming out of the goal like I owned the field and I had exclusive right to the soccer ball. Even experienced players would flinch. Confidence was an edge. Playing with confidence, even if I didn’t feel it, made me a better goalkeeper. I have found this to be true in many areas of life.

Mr. Revis is right: the first step is to believe in yourself. As you do and begin to make things happen, others will begin to believe in you, too.

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Every interaction we have, we have the ability to change the other person. I want my interactions to inspire others to be better people. The Christian singer, TobyMac, has a song called Speak Life which is actually based on a quote by Brennan Manning. If you’ve not heard the song, here it is:

I happen to agree with Manning’s words:

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

Every interaction we have either builds up or tears down. There isn’t a such a thing as a neutral interaction. I want every one of my interactions to build up. More over, I want to inspire others to be better people, too. What brought this to mind is the anime/manga series, Naruto (Nah-roo-toe). I’m finally into the second anime series, which starts two years after the first series ends.

If you’re not familiar with Naruto, it’s about a fictional world based on Japan’s feudal era (think samurai and ninja) with many modern conveniences. Naruto is a young ninja who, because of circumstances beyond his control, is initially shunned by his ninja village. However, he has a goal to be accepted by everyone and one day rise up to be the village’s leader. He is extremely hyper, tends to react too quickly, prefers brute force solutions to stealth and more traditional ninja methods and ways, but he’s also just as loyal to his friends and his village, he doesn’t give up, and he stands by his word (this is his “ninja way”).

In season one, there is another character, Gaara (Gah-rah), from a different village who actually had a harder upbringing than Naruto. However, the circumstances as to why they are mistreated are the same. But where Naruto endeavors to be accepted by his people and be their leader, Gaara had resigned himself to be the monster that everyone considered him to be. In battling Naruto and then fighting alongside of him, Gaara begins to understand that he can be different than the monster.

Fast forward to series 2. Naruto went away for two years of intensive training. Meanwhile, Gaara was able to change. He became accepted by his village and he became its leader. This is surprising, because Gaara, even when fighting alongside Naruto, was still a hard character to accept who still acts very much the monster. As a means of explaining the change, Gaara is shown having a flashback conversation with his older brother. There he outlines his goal to be accepted by his village and to be their leader. He now values relationships. This naturally surprises his older brother, who has seen Gaara as the monster. Then Gaara says why: because he has come to understand, because of Naruto, that he can make this choice. He doesn’t have to be the monster.

I want to be like Naruto. I want to inspire others to want to be better people. I can’t do that by telling them what they have to do. I can only do that by being a better person myself. And I can’t “fake it” because eventually a false persona will be cracked. I have to be real, so that despite my flaws, folks will still see something in me that will inspire them to try to better themselves.

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When faced with a problem or issue, ask yourself, “Do I need to solve it?” This question is important because you don’t need to solve every problem. I have a tendency to want to solve any problem I come across: mine or anyone else’s. Over time I have trained myself not to try and solve every problem. Some problems don’t need solving. Or at least, not every problem needs me.

I was explaining this idea yesterday to a co-worker. We ran into an issue building a server. As you might guess with information technology, the majority of the build process is automated. We’re not consuming up actual resources like wood and metal because we’re talking about information technology. The biggest consumable resource here is time.

He had already spent a good chunk of time trying to solve an issue with what he was building and the typical solutions weren’t working. Troubleshooting the problem further was likely going to take hours. More hours than it would take to simply blow away what he was working on and start over. This raised the question, “Do we need to solve why we’re encountering an issue?” The short answer is, “No.

Think Like a Freak book cover

Think Like a Freak book cover

In Think Like a Freak, the authors talk about knowing when to quit. Basically, does it make sense continuing to try and solve the problem at hand based on the cost? They cite Winston Churchill, famous for his “Never Give In” speech, who was a serial quitter when it came to things like politics. However, there was good reason for quitting each time.

In the case of my co-worker, it didn’t make sense to continue trying to find out what went wrong. There’s a whole host of reasons why we could have experienced the issues. Going down the path of each one was going to take time. The server was in the process of being built, meaning it hadn’t been delivered yet. It was time to quit. The “reward” or “earnings” for solving the problem was more than the effort to solve the issue. This was not a problem that needed solving.

When you are facing a problem, ask yourself that question. Some things have an intangible cost and/or benefit. You can still ask the question. It’s just the consequences or benefits don’t factor down to a money amount. Know what’s valuable to you in those intangible areas. Know what’s important.

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A friend of mine recently received feedback anonymously. The feedback raised some questions my friend wanted to ask. The problem with anonymous feedback is that when you receive it, you don’t know the perspective of the person who gave it. You don’t know what factors influence that feedback. And you can’t ask questions to understand specifically what caused that person to give that sort of feedback. This is true whether the feedback is positive or negative.

When you choose to give feedback, it’s best if you can give it in person. If nothing else, attach your name and contact information. If you care enough to give feedback, care enough to be willing to be engaged in a conversation about it. For those of us who seek to improve, having that conversation is crucial, and details often matter. Looking at it from the other side, I have found that those conversations can be more informative for me than for the person I offered a comment to. It’s an opportunity for both people to grow.

However, if you leave the comment anonymously, that conversation never has a chance to happen. Neither side can grow from it. Therefore, if you choose to leave feedback, do so prepared for that conversation and attach your name.

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Not all change is good. For instance, developing a destructive habit is not a good change. Therefore, having the mindset that “something has to change” but not having an idea of what should change and how it should change is fraught with unnecessary risk. 

I mentioned yesterday about wanting to a better husband. That is a vague goal. It isn’t measurable. It puts out there that I need to change, but not what or how. I’ve seen too many relationships where change did occur, but in the wrong direction. How do I prevent this in changing myself? One way is to consider how to be a better husband:

  • I listen better.
  • I actively help out with the household chores.
  • I put the needs of my wife before my own.
  • I pay attention to my wife’s moods and respond accordingly.
  • I remember my wife’s love languages and show my love frequently using those languages.
  • I actively plan and make happen times when we can be alone – date lunches or nights, weekend getaways, etc.

Admittedly, some of those are still on the vague side and I will need to consider them further. However, note that I have an idea of how to change. I am planning my change. I am acting with purpose. I am actively seeking to control my change.

Don’t just let change happen. Think about how you want things to change. What direction is a positive one for you to change? How will you know you are moving in that direction? What can you do to actively make progress? What can you control? Then take those steps. Maximize the positive change in your life. You have a choice. Execute it. 

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We all want to feel safe and secure. I am not just talking about physical security. I’m talking about security in our finances, in our living arrangements, in our relationships, in our employment, in every aspect of our lives. We want to feel like we are in control. To be successful, we need to act as if we are in control. We need to try and focus on those things that are important to us, and as the Hagakure says, we need to keep moving forward. 

However, the reality is that there are a lot of things in our lives that we have little to no control over. Our situation can change in a moment. For instance, friends of ours were alerted by a neighbor to the fact that there was smoke coming from their house. A fire had caught in the attic and by the time the fire was put out, the house was a total loss. Or in my case, I found myself at the emergency room with my wife. She needed surgery. She had an extended hospital stay. Another friend has recently passed away. She was in great shape. She was 32. 

All three cases blew apart the llusion that we had things under control. We don’t. We are advised not to stress or worry over those things, but the reality is that most of us do. However, as many things as we worry about, there are so many more that we don’t. Most of those things don’t even register consciously. The advice to not worry is best. Worrying over something we can’t change just causes stress. It just wears us down. But there’s a big difference between not worrying and being oblivious to the fact that our situation can change in a moment. 

That’s why I say safety is an illusion. Don’t count on safety. Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that you are and always will be safe, that your life is impregnable. Don’t live in fear, either. The happy medium is to enjoy the safety you have, so long as it doesn’t limit you, but to be prepared if that safety suddenly evaporates. Relationships crumble. Jobs comes to an end. Medical costs cause bankruptcy. Houses burn down. We can’t always prevent these life events. Let’s not pretend that we can. Instead, let us develop ourselves to handle it when we lose security unexpectedly. 

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