Is Curiosity The Secret of Life?

I think I’ve found the secret of life. Well, if not the secret, then certainly one of the pillars. Drumroll please, it’s…curiosity.

Think about it, the greatest learning period in our lives occurs in the first few years when we don’t know anything yet but are watching and listening to everything around us with astonishment and curiosity. Now, the largest leaps are made before a child is even vocal and I’m pretty confident that’s no coincidence because we all learn more when we aren’t talking. When a child does learn to talk, what is the word parents hear more than any other? So often that we need to try and propose things like “the quiet game” just to get a break sometimes. It’s WHY, isn’t it? Why is the sky blue, why does the cat make that sound, why, why, why? My daughter could rattle off about 30 why questions to complicated concepts in under three minutes when she was young. The other questions, what? and how? are not far behind, and children are persistent with the questions. I was never able to get away with “I don’t know”, and I never tried “because it is” as an answer because, well, that’s just not how I’m built. Being curious and asking questions is the key to tremendous growth.

We go to school to be educated and gain life experiences as we grow up.  The lucky among us stay curious and go into fields where we can continue to pursue our curiosity. Others of us still pursue it by getting outside our boxes, either with reading or travel, or cultivating relationships with people who have different backgrounds than we do, becoming lifelong learners. Then there are the poor souls who believe they already know all that’s worth knowing and they aren’t curious, or tolerant, of anything outside their view of the world. In my personal experience, this last group of people tends to have had a very limited experience of the wider world. They live right where they grew up, don’t read very much except maybe the local newspaper, and oddly, are very authoritative and opinionated about many subjects that they have little or no experience in.

These people have slowed their learning to a snail’s pace and will never experience the childlike joy of discovering something new. Interestingly, this lack of curiosity is not isolated to any one country or ethnic group. I know people in many cultures who would say “my grandpa is just like that” or “I have one aunt who you must be describing”. It’s not limited to older people either; there are many younger people I’ve met who are the same way. This reminds me that curiosity has very little to do with any particular group, even a highly educated one. In fact, Einstein once observed that it was a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. Curiosity requires interest from the individual. 

Einstein also said that he was neither clever nor especially gifted but that he was only very, very curious. This is likely to have been true of all the great minds. Of course they were extraordinarily gifted, but they were also very curious. Can you imagine where we’d be if Isaac Newton hadn’t wondered what made the apple fall on his head, or Ben Franklin never wondered about electricity? However, you don’t need to be a genius or have a lot of formal education to ask questions and be curious. Famed author Ray Bradbury has often said that after high school, he went to the local library and spent ten years there. He believed that there was no use even going to a university if you didn’t practically live at the library.

Curiosity and interest are not limited only to the young but they are definitely a part of the young at heart. Have you met these people who have some years on their bodies but who are interested in everything around them? They pay attention to what’s happening in the world, get involved in things like social media, and ask a lot of great questions of the people they meet; not out of nosiness, but because they are really interested. They also love to meet new people, young and old. These inquisitive people can look like just about anybody but two things they all seem to have in common are twinkles in their eyes and smiles on their faces. I love having conversations with curious people like this, it makes me feel younger and more alive.

When my mother-in-law was nearing the end of her life, hospice workers gave us a pamphlet to read describing stages that people go through as they prepare for death. One of the stages is losing interest in the things of this life in order to distance oneself from this world. That’s right, losing curiosity or interest is a step towards death! This is supposed to happen in the last six months of life. How many of us march down this road toward death years before we are actually called home?

As a person who loves history and has forever dreamt of travel, I have always been interested in people different from myself. Having grown up in a mostly homogeneous area in the U.S., I felt very lucky to have been friends with various exchange students and to have learned about different cultures. There are so many fascinating things to know about food, language, worldview, even humor. It was also intriguing to learn about all the similarities we have. A couple of my oldest friends are naturalized citizens, one from Korea and one from Mexico. It has been incredible to watch how much each of their families want to fit in and how much they blend their traditional cultures with the cultures of the people around them (It seems everybody wants a traditional turkey dinner at Thanksgiving). I always felt that this was as close as I could get to seeing how my own ancestors must have blended their old ways with new ones when they arrived in the country several generations ago.

One of my dearest friends from early in my adult life came from a world very different from mine. She was a put-together, brassy New Yorker and I was a much less put-together, timid Pacific Northwesterner. She was over 40 years my senior and our skin colors were not even close to the same. She grew up in a different era than I did and had stories that have had a lasting impact on me. She had fought battles I had only read about and fostered over 30 teenaged women. She had already lived a rich life and I was just starting my journey but she was still interested and interesting. She was funny, kind, intelligent, and curious. These are traits that can help us make friends with each other even if we don’t seem to have any other similarities in our backgrounds.

Do you want to know how to use your curiosity close to home? Get one of those books that is filled with questions you ask your parents or grandparents and sit down with them. The questions aren’t things that always come up in day to day life. When several of us did this with my grandmother it was amazing. There were stories even my aunts and uncles didn’t know. Things my grandmother hadn’t thought about in years came up and they were fascinating. It was a look into a different era, time travel if you will. When I think about all the richness in my life that I would have missed if I hadn’t been curious I am humbled. I also feel so much pity for those who will never experience all the joy, wonderment, and knowledge that comes from curiosity.

What can you do to tap into this incredible fountain of youth? Get out and talk to people who you believe are different than you. Don’t assume you understand why other people do the things they do; ask questions. Read books, watch different television shows or movies than you normally would. Try some different foods, use Wikipedia any time you’re curious about virtually anything. Find a group involved in something you have been interested in and attend a get together. Indulge your curiosity! I promise you, the world will never run out of wonderful surprises if you are only curious enough to look for them.

Are We Really So Different?

Everybody is just the same in many ways, same worries, same fears, same limiting beliefs, often the same biases.

I don’t want to minimize our uniqueness, only to focus the moment on our similarities. We feel so alone and so misunderstood, but then we read a passage in a book and it completely defines us.  How is it that some other person, one that might have lived a very different life from ours in a different time perhaps, can feel exactly the way we feel? Even more amazing is that if we are finding this pearl, then others must have recognized the truth in it as well.  It boggles the imagination to consider how many others have mentally been where we are at right this moment. Why then do we feel like we walk alone so much of the time? Why do we not share these ideas openly so we can enjoy the connection with like-minded people?

Often it is because we don’t trust that others actually could relate. We fear being judged and ostracized. I will venture to say that this is one of the greatest fears most of us face on a regular basis. Of course, when we show our true selves a little bit and find another human being who “gets” us, it’s one of the most satisfying things in the world. Have you ever met a person who you just click with right away? The bond is so strong and so appealing that even a very brief conversation with that person sticks with you for years after and you crave more of that connection.

It’s funny how overcoming our fear of being judged can lead to our greatest elation. Even more interesting is how easy this becomes when we decide to let go a little. I have always been painfully shy and awkward, but in recent years I have made these types of connections many times. Making new friends is something I really don’t have to think about anymore. Contrast that with the girl who never fit in, and who struggled with friendships all through school. Here’s the thing- I haven’t become any less awkward and I still get a little ill when I have to be around a lot of people I don’t know. What changed? Honestly, I think I got to a certain point when I’d been through enough big battles, like cancer, and was just too tired to be bothered with the status quo. When I made the decision to just be myself, I had expected to pretty much walk alone. I had learned that’s what would happen to anyone who dared to be different when I was in school. It turns out, I was wrong. As an adult, things are different.

Once we move past the high school stage, life becomes a great equalizer. Sure, some of us stay within the same social norms we may have excelled in during school, but the rest of us face a world that is very large with all sorts of possibilities. Now the same traits that got us made fun of previously can help us make a successful living. We are now free to draw from a larger circle to find our “tribe”. This is an exciting time and it lasts for the rest of our lives! We are free to become who we want at any time. It’s great if you registered for college at eighteen and went after your dream right away, knocking that bucket list down right from the get go. It is also possible to be a church mouse until you are 50 years old in an empty nest and then decide you want to travel the world, learn a new language, or participate in an iron man triathlon. I personally know people who have done all of these things a bit later in life.

Once we decide we have an interest in something and begin to talk about it, we will find others who have similar interests. Oftentimes, those others may be closer than we expect. I remember watching a television show about a home in San Francisco with my dad years ago. The home had false panels and secret passages in it and my dad remarked that he had all his life wanted a home like that. He loved the mystery of it and wanted to explore. I was already an adult by this time and had the same captivation, but I never knew about his interest. I thought I was alone in my fascination because of my love of mystery novels and architecture, but it turns out that I wasn’t.  If pictures of bookcases leading to hidden rooms on Pinterest is any indication, my dad and I share this love with millions of people.

The similarities are not limited to those close to us. I used to get the online news reports from several different countries and read the comments on the stories. It amazed me that the people commenting on the stories had primarily the same grievances against their governments and would very often write something like “only in this country does the government …”. The rest of that sentence would match every other country’s news feed comments.

Comedians probably make the best use of our shared experiences. For their jokes to work, they need to appeal to a broad audience. The next time you are laughing because a comic has just described exactly your last awkward encounter with your doctor, notice all the others who are laughing and know that they have all had the same embarrassing incident.

What can we take from all this? Go out and connect with people. Chase your dreams without being afraid of what others will think- they may actually admire what you’re doing. When you are feeling like you’re from another planet and you are unacceptably weird, you’re not, you are not alone.

The Forgotten Joy of Gift Giving

БонбоньеркаI realize this is coming at the wrong time of year for most of us, but I heard a comment the other day that really got me thinking about the joy of gift giving.

There are many out there who say that we are too materialistic and overly focused on presents, that holidays have become too commercialized. I agree with this when it comes to the insane marketing tactics and crazed overindulgence we often see, but I wonder if we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think a lot of us forget how good it can feel to give- why giving for special occasions likely started in the first place. This joy can be especially meaningful for children, the elderly, and others of us who are not able to give things to others as often as we’d like.

I remember when my little brother’s elementary school had a Christmas bazaar. The event worked like a rummage sale, with all the kids bringing in unwanted items to be set up on tables to be sold. My family had sent in a few things but my Mom hadn’t really paid attention to how the whole thing worked. What she didn’t realize was that the kids would all get to shop among all the “treasures”. If she had realized how it worked, and that my sweet little brother would be buying Christmas presents for our whole family, she would have sent him to school with more than $2. Probably not a lot more, but maybe at least $5 (my Mom was frugal with money).

Nevertheless, my brother took his $2 and scoured through all the
treasures, carefully budgeting his precious money, looking for just the right gifts for each of his two sisters and his Mom and Dad. He ended up with a jar for Mom that matched our kitchen, little plaques for my sister and me in each of our favorite colors, and a tiny screwdriver for our auto mechanic father. He had found perfect, personal gifts for each of us and he had two cents to spare. He didn’t have enough left to get himself anything but he was ecstatic and that turned out to be his favorite Christmas ever.

My brother’s joy was infectious and I always remembered how special that Christmas was for all of us. Many years later, my husband’s company was part of a program where you get to “adopt” a family for the holidays. The team members would buy gifts from the family’s wish list and the company would provide a holiday meal.

These programs are very popular with the team members so my husband misunderstood at first when a newly hired young man asked how he could participate in the program. It turned out that the young man’s wife had left him with two young children to raise and since he had only recently found a job, he could barely afford to provide regular meals much less anything special for the holidays. It was too late for the young man to sign up for the adopt-a-family program, but the children had been through so much that the team immediately jumped into action and showered the man’s little family with generosity. Remembering the joy my brother had as a small boy, our family decided to give wrapping paper and store gift cards for the young man and each of the children, with the suggestion that they be used to buy gifts for each other.

The struggling father was naturally overflowing with gratitude at the generosity of his new coworkers but he later shared that the ability for he and his children to purchase gifts for each other was the thing that more than anything made Christmas for his family that year.

The lesson on giving came back to me again after I had a daughter of my own. My brother in law is a single guy who would hand the parent of each of his family members some cash for birthdays or Christmas and say, “I don’t shop, get something for them from me”. When my daughter was two years old, I refused. I told him if he wanted to give her a gift he could take her to the park or he could go to the discount store next to his gym and pick up a coloring book for 50 cents. He opted for the coloring book (actually 3 coloring books, crayons, and colored pencils- did I mention he’s a single guy?) and asked his mother to wrap it up for him. He was more excited than she was waiting for her to open the gift! Of course, she loved all of it and they got to color together and form some happy memories.

My brother in law continued to do his own shopping for years. All the years he did it, the gifts were inexpensive and personal, and he was excited every single time. He had been robbing himself of this joy of gift giving all his life.
The pleasure in gift giving is not at all limited to things that have to be purchased, but I do think the selection and presentation of the gift is part of the experience. I received a gift of a sugar cookie one year from a young child. The cookie was meant to hang on the tree as an ornament and the little girl had obviously spent a great deal of care painting it just so and writing my name on it. She had put it in its own special box with a beautiful, tattered ribbon around it and was clearly excited to give it to me. I appreciated the gift from the heart tremendously and you can bet I made a big fuss over it.

I hear so many people say they don’t “do” gifts for lots of different reasons and I can’t help but think that they’ve never done it right if they feel that way. Forget about all the obligatory gifts we think we need to buy out of obligation. Forget about the extravagantly expensive gifts and parties that are shown all over the media. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got back to giving out of thoughtfulness, if we remembered that joy we had as children?

The next time your grandmother sends you a $5 check, cash it and let her know what you did with the gift that made you smile. If you have children who want to give you gifts, I hope you remember that the gift goes both ways and you don’t deprive them of this beautiful experience.

3 Steps For Better Business Decisions

Photo By Dean Hochman from Overland Park, Kansas, U.S)
Photo By Dean Hochman from Overland Park, Kansas, U.S

Decision making can be difficult. Articles based on recent brain research are saying that we only have the willpower for just so many choices in a day. Many geniuses throughout history have been known to conserve their brainpower for deep thinking by reducing the number of unnecessary decisions they have to
make. They’ve been known to do things like wear identical outfits each day, always eat the same breakfast and lunch, and have inviolable schedules on when to eat, sleep, and go for walks so they don’t have to make any choices.

We may not be revolutionizing people’s lives or inventing the next technological miracle (or maybe we are) but we can use some of these techniques to help us with our daily decisions too. Here are three planning tips that can help you limit the number of things your mind has to work on during the day so you can focus on the things that are really important to you.

  • Simplify your wardrobe and take one day to plan your outfits for the week. Make sure everything is cleaned, pressed, and accessorized- from your undergarments right down to your shoes and coat. Make sure you scrutinize each item for missing buttons, ripped seams, even for fit if you haven’t worn the item for a while. The last thing you want is a morning surprise that leaves you scrambling and running late, or worse, leaves you exposed at work.
  • Plan and prep your daytime food for the week. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most of us tend to eat the same thing every day for breakfast. In my case, I make a big pot of oatmeal on Sunday and have it every day of the following work week. You can slice and cook off chicken and other proteins and portion them out in your refrigerator. A lot of veggies can be cut a few days ahead of time. I’ve seen smoothie ingredients frozen in a muffin tin and then kept in freezer bags ready to go.

This is not a new concept. My husband has fond memories of all the women in his family gathering in one of the kitchens every Saturday or Sunday to press out pasta for all the families. There were always great stories and a lot of laughter. It’s a wonderful way to spend quality time with family and pass down recipes while reducing work day stress, so it really has multiple benefits. Don’t think that if you are single or don’t have family around you can’t do this. When I was first out and on my own, my best friend and I spent nearly every Saturday afternoon doing the same thing, only it was with Mexican food (yes I do know the secret for fluffy Mexican style rice).

  • Make lists. Set aside a specific time each week to determine the most important things you need to accomplish for the next week and what tasks they can be broken down into. Use the 80/20 rule (generally 20% of our work provides 80% of the value) and a critical eye to strip out unnecessary or unproductive tasks. This assumes that you already have short, intermediate, and long term goals in place to guide you*. Have a list for the week and then use it to create daily lists as well.

Choose three things each day that will give the most benefit, but that will be the most challenging, and put them at the top of your list. Do these things first thing in the morning and get them over with. This is called “eating the frog” and it’s based on Mark Twain saying that “if the first thing in the morning you were to eat a live frog, you could go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long”. You will find that once you have knocked out a few of your more challenging tasks, you’ll be inspired to fly through the easier ones. Brian Tracy has written a great book called Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time that has a lot of helpful ideas on this subject. One last tip on lists is to make sure to build in some time for unexpected things to come up so you don’t get derailed.

I realize these techniques require a time and energy commitment at the front end. However, once you’ve developed these habits, you should find that you are accomplishing daily goals at unprecedented rates and you’ll have energy left to concentrate on things you may have thought were only pipe dreams.

*If you need help setting or prioritizing goals, a coach can really help. Contact me today for a complimentary consultation and see if you can’t just revolutionize your life after all.

Are Your Company Rules Getting In The Way Of Your Success?

Ruler  I’ve worked with a number of companies who have rules for no currently apparent reason. I say currently apparent because I know that there are often very good reasons why some rule is implemented, but time passes and those reasons no longer exist. I’d like to give companies the benefit of the doubt on this and assume this is always the case when the rules don’t make sense. I’d like to give them that benefit, but frankly, I’ve seen a few policies that really stretch that assertion. Let me give you a few examples.

I was coming in to manage a new department, so I was working with the exiting manager in her last week. This company had hours from 8am until 9:30pm on Monday through Saturday and slightly shorter hours on Sunday. We had an interview with a potential job candidate who was in college so was only available for nights and weekends. The exiting manager told me we could interview the candidate but we couldn’t hire him because he wasn’t available for day shift. As you may imagine, day shift was the most desirable and filling the others was very difficult. When I pointed this out I was told that had always been the policy, (the dreaded “that’s how we’ve always done it”) but I could make an exception if I wanted to. I did, and within three months, this student was our night manager, saving me from having to alternate between shifts. Instead of feeling like he had to sacrifice a night or weekend, this team member worked hard for us, on the less desirable shift, because he felt we had accommodated him. The fact that this accommodation also helped the company, and me as the manager,
was just the gravy.

Another time I worked with a woman who was fantastic at her job. She took over a department that had previously required two full time people to work and she handled the entire workload on her own, more effectively than when there were two people. This super-efficient woman didn’t like to be bored, so she took off early when she didn’t have any work to do. In many cases a person can pitch in with another department or work on their skills or something else when things are slow, but that wasn’t the case here. There was literally nothing for her to do for the company and no one who would be affected by her absence when she was caught up. In spite of this, the director of the department insisted she be written up for taking off early. After all, she was hired to be here 8-5. The kicker, she was an hourly employee. Can you imagine, a team member who only gets paid when they’re actually productive? This is something most business owners and managers can only dream about and yet this company punished it because of somebody’s notion of what the standard should be, without ever considering the logic of the situation.

There was another incident I came across where a company had purchased a relatively expensive software system for their collections department. They were very frustrated because they had been promised that there would be up to five pages for notes on the accounts but when they were up and running, there was actually only room for about one sentence. A look at the screen showed, highlighted in orange, a box that read “Press Page Down for More”. When asked if they had tried pressing the PgDn key, the response was that they had not been told that in their training so they didn’t dare try it (the pages were all there). These were intelligent people but because rules were so strict in the organization, it didn’t even occur to them to try something on their own. This, incidentally, is a strong warning of what happens when you don’t empower your team, but we will cover that in a later post.

In each of these examples, arbitrary rules got in the way (or almost got in the way) of outcomes that the companies wanted. In coaching, we like to ask what our clients are trying to accomplish and then we examine if the path they are on will actually get them there. When we look at company policies, we have to put them under the same scrutiny.

Call it whatever popular term you want to, thinking outside the box, challenging authority, coloring outside the lines, etc. but be sure that if you want to build something extraordinary, you will need to review your rules and policies every so often to make sure that they aren’t actually getting in your way.

The Best Employee Engagement Tool and It Costs Nothing

WIN_20160213_14_28_42_Pro Companies are always looking for inexpensive ways to engage employees. There are thousands of articles out there with great ideas on how to accomplish this. It turns out that engaging employees may be easier than you think, and it’s not only free, it actually pays you.

What’s the big idea? It’s two words; they are very simple and you probably learned them before you turned two years old. The words are Thank You. If this sounds overly simplistic, it is. It’s the simplest thing on earth but it’s also powerful when used effectively, and it’s underutilized.

A coworker of mine once told me a story about a business owner he had worked for previously. The business had about seventeen employees and they got paid twice a month. Every payday, without fail, the owner went around to each employee, handed them their paycheck, shook their hand, looked them in the eye and said thank you. “Thank you for making this business a success.” My coworker told me “You just wanted to go out and make money for the guy”. This wonderful leader took a few minutes out of his day 26 times a year, didn’t spend a penny, and yet his team couldn’t wait to go out and do a great job for him. I’m not terribly surprised by the reactions of the employees; psychological studies have shown we feel better when we receive praise and are hard-wired to find ways to get more of it.

Of course, the leader in our example did quite a few things right when he delivered the thank you that made it so effective. First, he took the time personally to deliver the message which let each of his team members know how important it was to him, how important they were to him. He also looked each person in the eye and shook their hand so they would know he respected them. By delivering the thanks with the paychecks, he signaled that he was happy to pay them and didn’t begrudge the expense. Finally, by thanking each individual for making the business a success, he acknowledged their contributions and let them know that they mattered.

If you keep up on any of the business engagement research out there you know that feeling respected and being able to see where your work contributes value to something bigger are very important pieces for enhancing engagement and longevity.

How does this pay you? Also simple, recent brain research has shown that showing gratitude actually gives our brains a boost of the “feel good” chemicals.

Bonus- These concepts also work in our personal lives. Many of us stop too rarely to really thank our partners for the seemingly little things they do all the time to make our lives run smoothly.

Tip- How you say the words thank you can make quite a bit of difference in how they are received. Someone who pauses for a second and says “wow, THANK you” makes me feel more appreciated than someone who tosses a quick “thanks” over their shoulder as they’re walking away.

Thank YOU for reading this! Who can you go out and thank today?

 

The secret to making anything fun (or why I never get bored)

What if I told you that there was a way to make even the most mundane things fun, or at the very least, more tolerable?

It’s true, and the secret lies in gamification. Gamification is all the buzz in business right now with companies looking for ways to make wellness initiatives and learning and development fun so people will want to participate. Gamification works because the motivation provided by competition and winning is fueled by dopamine, the chemical “feel good” signal that gets passed from one neuron in your brain to another. Essentially, your body releases dopamine when you experience something pleasurable or satisfying.

What may surprise you is that you don’t have to receive any kind of tangible reward for the dopamine to kick in. Psychologists have found that intrinsic rewards can be more powerful motivators than an external reward system.

You can apply this concept to most anything. Here are a few ideas:

  • You can get your family to clean the house by playing a round of Disney trivia and letting the winner choose which room they want to work on; setting a timer for 15 minutes of cleaning as much as possible and then back for another round of the trivia game.
  • You can assign points to healthy behaviors or healthy foods and compete against yourself or others to see how many you can rack up.
  • You can estimate how many folders you can file, envelopes you can type, clothing items you can fold, etc, etc in a specified time and then challenge yourself to beat the estimate.
  • While jogging, you can race to see if you can make it to the next stop sign on the road before your song changes.
  • You can challenge yourself to hold that plank until you get to 75 bottles of beer on the wall.

In a slight twist on the concept. I was once struck with an acute case of claustrophobia while having an MRI and managed to keep calm by trying to find a pattern in the banging noises the machine made and betting I could guess when the next one would come.

It turns out that even before you’ve won your challenge, your brain may give you a chemical hit. This is because dopamine neurons try to predict the rush you’ll receive from your actions. Over time, they’ll learn when something satisfying is on its way and release feel good vibes beforehand.

Therefore, the more you do (such as competing a task or chore), the more you receive (flashes of dopamine), and the easier it is to stay motivated. Armed with this knowledge, you never have to be bored again.

Why Does Life Always Begin Tomorrow?

haitiDo you ever experience something that hits you over the head like a brick and forever changes your perspective?

Years ago, when I was a teenager, a very successful character in a popular TV show committed suicide. What struck me like a lightning bolt was her suicide note, it said “Why does life always begin tomorrow?”.

There are so many important themes that come up for me as I remember the story line that my mind is racing in all kinds of directions. To fill out the story a little bit more, the character suffered with bulimia. She was always putting up a strong front while at the same time, secretly trying to bide her time with various harmful methods until she could just be stronger, smarter, more successful at work, more health conscious, fill in the blank. Once she achieved whatever goal it was, life would suddenly be perfect. Then she would take better care of herself, then she’d make more friends, take it easy, start taking great vacations, start living. Does this sound familiar to you? It resonated with me and it was the first time I was aware I was thinking this way. Since that time I have heard many, many others with the same outlook.

Here’s what we fail to take account of when we think this way, we don’t have a fairy godmother and we don’t have a crystal ball to show what kind of time we have. I knew a couple who never took a vacation and never spent an unnecessary dime on themselves or others, working until they were 72 so they could have money to do whatever they wanted to in retirement. You can probably guess what happened; the husband died three months after the retirement. I believe the wife passed a year after that.

Enjoy today, appreciate what you have while you have it. The future isn’t guaranteed. Planning and dreaming for the future are good things as long as you don’t forget to live for today too.

I don’t think we take into account exactly how our transition will happen either. In my TV character example, she was keeping her weight under control but it was by “cheating” herself. Her methods didn’t do anything to help her develop into a person who would sustain long term health or weight control. I recently read somewhere that we tend to think that our future selves are different people than we are; that we often push burdens off to them to handle. I’ve heard that some of us even rack up debt assuming that we will be better positioned to pay it in the future. Here’s the thing, what we do TODAY is what will create who we are tomorrow and who we are tomorrow is still going to be us.

It’s good to have goals to strive toward as long as we realize that what we do today, and every day, will move us toward or away from those goals. We won’t magically transform into someone else but we can be better versions of ourselves if we put in the work day by day.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to…”? The end of the sentence could be just about anything. I’ll bet that we can all imagine ourselves a year in the future and we can guess what our future selves would tell us. It’s not that difficult to predict, save some of that money, put down that cigarette, get a little more exercise. You know what else I think our future selves would say to us? Take it easy on yourself; what is so bad about who you already are? I’ve heard so many people reminisce on their lives and they often talk about how they wish they could go back to those times when they thought they were too this or too that to enjoy themselves because now they’d give anything to be back in those “good old days”.

Life doesn’t begin tomorrow; life is happening today. It’s all about the journey so get out and savor it.

 

4 Simple Questions That Can Change Your Life

128px-Nuvola_apps_filetypes.svgWe are always looking for ways to get better or have a better life. There are countless books and products devoted to just that ideal and many of us search for help from all sorts of sources. Have you ever noticed that following this certain regimen or buying that certain product doesn’t help for very long?

I believe that the reason is that the answers are within us and while we all do share some of the same hopes and dreams, we are also very different in what our specific answers are. I propose that you ask yourself four questions every evening before you go to sleep and see if they don’t cause you to change your life.

Question 1. Did I do something today that will get me closer to my goals (personal and business)?

It’s important to have goals and move forward in our lives or we tend to stagnate and begin to feel frustrated. Even small steps count and will keep us going in the right direction. Keeping the goals in mind will also help us make positive decisions when we are tempted to do otherwise.

Question 2. What am I grateful today?

Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions there is. I read about a recent study that states that even the act of thinking about things to be grateful for is enough to raise the dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in our brains. When we are disheartened, it can be difficult at first to find things to be grateful for, but since even the attempt will help us, it can’t hurt to try it. I believe that if you can read this, you can find something that you can be genuinely be grateful for. For instance, I learned about warming blankets when I used to spend the nights at the hospital with my Mom when she was battling cancer. It was much more difficult to find things to be grateful for at that time but I was sure grateful for those blankets when I slept there next to her bed.

Question 3. What did I do that made someone else’s life even a little better today?

If you want to feel better and do better within yourself, you have to reach outside yourself. There are the Chicken Soup for The Soul stories we’ve all heard about where one kind action prevents some poor soul from committing suicide and you know what? They’re true. This doesn’t have to be something huge; sometimes even a smile and a nod at someone when they’re struggling can ease their burden. If you manage others, you could stop for an extra minute to ask one of your team how their family is doing, and actually listen thoughtfully to the answer (great leaders are already doing this). If you see a customer service rep struggling with an unhappy customer, give them an understanding look and mouth to them that they’re doing fine and I promise you that you will have improved their day tremendously.

Question 4. What did I learn today?

If we are working, we have to continue to grow to keep up with business demands and if we are not employed, we need to stimulate our minds to keep them sharp. Every single thing that happens to us has something to teach. The general consensus today is that even so called failures are merely opportunities to learn.

When you answer these questions, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all of the accomplishments and allow yourself the luxury of feeling good about yourself. Every day you can be grateful and every day you can learn, but if you don’t feel like you made any steps to help anyone else or to move in the direction of your goals, don’t beat yourself up. Make up your mind to take some action in the right direction the next day, and maybe even plan for the specific actions you will take, and move on.

Using these questions will help in two ways. You will end your day with some positive self talk that will help you feel better and sleep better. You will also, over time, find ways to incorporate these positive practices into your daily life. At first, it may only be to check them off your list but after awhile, they will become a part of who you are, a more fulfilled person living a better life.

Give it a try, what have you got to lose?

Teaching Unintentionally

Today I’m thinking about teaching. Most of us teach every day; we teach our children, we teach our employees or coworkers, we teach everyone we interact with to some degree.

When we teach intentionally, we generally tell others what we want them to know, pretty straightforward, right? What about what we teach unintentionally? When we behave in ways that we might not want others to emulate?

It seems more and more that we forget that teaching is ongoing. When we tell our children that they must learn to control their tempers and then we lose ours in traffic, what are we teaching? When we tell our employees that they must act respectfully and then we don’t treat them respectfully or we reward behaviors that aren’t respectful because they made us some money, what are we teaching? This also applies to those who are in the teaching profession. When we teach our students anything but we don’t model or reward the actions we are teaching, what are they learning?

When we don’t treat people the way we know we should because we are having a rough day, or are in a bad mood, but we excuse it because we believe we are usually very kind so we get a pass for the day, we are teaching others that it’s not really that important to treat people well. In each of these examples, we could be impacting someone else who is in a fragile state themselves so our one small interaction may have a disproportionate impact on them. For myself, if I look back over my life like a film reel and pick out my worst days, I can’t think of one instance where I would say, “OK, on THAT day it was perfectly fine to damage another person’s spirit because I was in a bad place”.

To paraphrase Emerson, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear your words”

Fortunately or unfortunately, anyone who has spent time with small children can tell you that the lessons that stick are the ones we didn’t mean to teach. What will your actions teach today?