What’s Stopping Your Success? It’s Probably Not What You Think!

mountainmanselfworthWhat’s Stopping Your Success? It’s Probably Not What You Think!

So, here we are, almost ¼ of the way through the year. I’m willing to bet that at the beginning of 2015 you set a goal or two. Hopefully, you’ve been working diligently towards those. Perhaps you’ve already achieved them. If it was a fairly big goal, however, you’re probably still on the path towards it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve settled into a bit of a rut.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you’re still working towards it. You know that the only way to achieve it is to work towards it. That being said, there’s this trap that you may well have fallen into. It’s the trap that I call, “but it’s not perfect”.

Here’s how it works. Essentially, as big and lofty as your dream is, you begin where you are, by taking small steps. That’s wise, for sure. After all, as the proverb states, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The trap lies in staying in that small step, because you tell yourself that you need to “perfect” whatever is involved here, before you can move on to the next step.

On some level, this feels true, right? And can you possibly progress to B if you haven’t mastered A? And yet, I’m here to challenge that belief. Because what I know for sure is that if you’re waiting to PERFECT this step before you move on, you may well be stuck AND you’ll inadvertently lower your expectations. And when you lower the expectations, you lower your level of achievement.

So, what’s the solution?

You don’t wait for perfect. Instead, you move on once you’ve achieved a reasonable level of success. At the point where you are successful more often than you’re not successful, that is the moment to challenge yourself to try the next level. By raising the stakes, raising the bar, you challenge yourself to step into your potential. As a bonus? Often you’ll end up perfecting that particular skill you were working on, just by virtue of the fact that you set your expectations higher.

So, whether you’re a team working on the development of a project, an artist looking to finish a work, an athlete aiming to reach a milestone, or anyone else who’s working towards something specific, it’s time to raise the bar. Rather than telling yourself that you’ll try something once you’ve mastered this stage, let go of the need to be perfect, allow yourself to be good, and then take the next step.

Bottom-line: your human nature is always to rise to the level of the bar. If you’re truly committed to reaching your goal, stop focusing on perfecting the step you’re on. Instead, raise the bar and you’ll raise your level of success.

THINK1How Well Do You T.H.I.N.K.?

Last week, I talked about the importance of listening. This week, despite what this article’s title might have you believe, I’m actually going to share some thoughts about speaking. More specifically, I’m going to challenge you to consider the filters you use (or don’t) when you decide to speak.

So often, the things you choose to say are articulated in response to something, without a whole lot of thought to the impact of those words. In other words, you speak without thinking. The words come out of your mouth without having first been put through a filter of any sort. As a result, you say what you didn’t mean to say, or what you say isn’t actually necessary to the relationship or circumstance in any way.

So how do you avoid the hazards of speaking in such a fashion? You follow the adage to “think before you speak”, AND you use “think” as an acronym for the filters required. In this context, whatever you’re about to say, you want to ask yourself:

  • Is it TRUE?
  • Is it HELPFUL?
  • Is it INSPIRING?
  • Is it NECESSARY?
  • Is it KIND?

Using the word “Think” in this way is not mine. I saw it online somewhere – I believe on a facebook feed, although I’m not sure of the exact source. What I like about it is that it provides a really concrete way to apply the whole “think before you speak” ideal. It tells you exactly what you need to be thinking about, in order to determine whether or not something is worthy of speaking.

Ideally, as you apply these filters to your words – whether spoken, or written (e.g., email or text) – you’ll pass all 5 filters. That being said, the challenge lies in the fact that things like “kindness” can be subjective. So the question to ask in that case is, is it your intention to be kind? Or are you speaking to be mean, malicious or otherwise hurtful? If it’s the latter, then whatever you want to say should probably find another outlet – like your journal.

The other filter that can pose a challenge, is that of “inspiring”. I’m not sure that everything that is articulated can be – or should be – inspiring. But perhaps, if it passes though all of the other filters (true, helpful, necessary and kind) then it becomes inspiring. Something to think about.

Bottom-line: as a leader in any context – professional or personal – when you model the appropriate use of filters of this sort, you help to build a safe container in which your group can interact. You set the stage and create the space for meaningful, helpful dialogue to transpire. Think before you speak; this age-old wisdom has survived the test of time for a reason.

Are-you-listening-to-meAre You Sure You’re Listening?

To be a truly effective communicator, you’ve got to stop talking. Yes, you read that correctly. Too many of us – myself included – talk too much. Our collective reasons for talking are many and varied – to convey information, to make ourselves heard, to appear knowledgeable, to feel understood. Whatever the reason might be, our need to talk is getting in the way of effective communication. Why? Because listening – not talking – is the skill that holds the key to understanding; and understanding is at the heart of meaningful communication.

So, what stops you from listening effectively? The fact that you confuse LISTENING with HEARING. They’re not the same thing. When you hear what’s been said, you may well be able to regurgitate what you’ve heard, sometimes flawlessly. When you LISTEN, however, you can do so much more than that. Not only can you repeat the words that have been articulated, you can connect with another person, you can feel what they’re feeling, you engage in a meaningful, fully present way. When you truly listen, there’s a way that you absorb what isn’t actually said, and sometimes, what isn’t said is of more importance than what is.

Body language, voice tone, silence – these are the subtleties that give a simple sentence so much meaning. If all you’re doing is hearing, then you’re going to miss those pieces – and you’re going to miss the heart of the matter, more often than not.

In recent weeks I’ve come to believe that many of us crave that sense of being understood. In an effort to experience this understanding, we explain, we defend, we elaborate – in short, we talk. Because we’re talking, we’re not listening. And because we’re not listening, others are not listening to us. It’s a cyclical, reciprocal thing.

So, how do we stop the cycle? Well, we stop talking. Moreover, we start listening. We make a conscious effort to let go of the need to explain, elaborate, and defend. We commit to really hearing what’s underneath the words that are coming at us, and we open ourselves to that space of being fully present and engaged. When we’re in that space, then we’re listening. And when those around us feel really listened to, then we in turn will be given space to be heard.

Bottom-line: it’s time to stop talking and start listening. As Simon Sinek says, “there’s a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” Don’t worry about getting your turn at the metaphorical microphone. Instead, focus on understanding the one who’s doing the talking in the moment. And then, you will find that you are given space to speak, based on what you UNDERSTAND, not on what you HEAR.

LivHow Are You Measuring Success?

Sometimes, I glean the greatest knowledge and wisdom from my kids.

This past week, my daughter had a dress rehearsal for her competitive dance team. By the time you read this, she and her teammates will actually have completed their first competition. This time in dance season is always busy, fun and filled with a range of emotions. There are feelings of fear, doubt, happiness, excitement, joy and exhilaration – and everything else you can imagine. The dancers work hard, they put themselves out there, they set goals and they strive to achieve them.

The nature of these events is competitive. That’s why they are called competitions. They’re not festivals, not recitals, but competitions. Dancers and groups of dancers square off against others, each trying to deliver their best performance in the hopes that the judges will come out in their favour. Sometimes, there are multiple numbers in a category. Sometimes there’s just one. Regardless, there is anxiety married with a desire to just enjoy the moment.

My daughter has been dancing competitively since the age of 6 – so for 7 years now. In the last few years, she has danced several group numbers, a duet or trio and a solo. As her mom, my nerves ride high for all of these numbers – I want her to do well and, moreover to FEEL like she’s done well. This is somewhat challenging, because I’m not always sure what “doing well” looks like for her. Where does she have to place to feel like she’s “done well”? How does she have to perform? Well, this weekend, I got my answer.

After dress rehearsal, Liv and I were talking about her goals, her desires for the coming season. It’s kind of a ritual that we engage in. As we talked about what a successful season would look like for her, she articulated these words: “I used to care about where I placed. Now I care about what mark I get.”

I confess, I had to smile.

I realized that my daughter had hit on the key to success in competition of any sort, and it’s a bit of a paradox. You see, as much as you are competing against others – and you are, there’s no denying that – the true measure of your success lies in how well you do in relation to yourself.

When I asked her to explain, she elaborated by saying this: “I used to worry about where I placed. I didn’t want to place last. And I see that others are really worried about where they place. But I just want to do well. So long as I get the mark I want, then it doesn’t matter so much where I place.”

Now, understand, I’m fairly convinced that Liv loves to come first in any category. Actually, I know this, because I’ve seen the glow when she and her teammates accomplish this. That being said, she’s learned – or perhaps, she’s realized – the wisdom of not being attached to where she places. In other words, her sense of success is not based on a measure of how she does relative to others; it’s about how she does relative to herself.

This is one heck of a powerful life and leadership lesson.

Too often, we compare ourselves to others, we gauge our success by others, or (to quote a colleague) we compare the inside of us to the outside of others. We see what THEY have accomplished, achieved or acquired and we hold ourselves to that outside standard.

While there might be value in seeing what the external competition is like, I believe that there’s more value in taking a look at the internal completion. What are YOU capable of? How are you moving forward? How do your actions and achievements today measure up against your actions and achievements of yesterday? Are you further ahead? Stuck in a rut? Moving backwards? These are the measures that matter.

Bottom-line: while competing against others, in any setting, can be exhilarating and even fun, you tread a dangerous path when you gauge your sense of self worth by measuring up against others. Competition isn’t really about how you do against everyone else. It’s about how you do against you. And that’s a lesson worth holding on to.

woman-with-black-curly-hair-drinking-from-white-coffee-mugPivotal Life Lessons from My Own Experience

  1. One of the greatest gifts you can ever give to someone is your time.
  2. Truly great communicators are those who know how to listen.
  3. Saying “no” to someone can enable them to find their own strength.
  4. Viewing failure as something celebration-worthy opens up a whole host of opportunities.
  5. Learning how to fail is as important (maybe even more) as learning how to succeed.
  6. Mindfulness enriches life immensely.
  7. Knowing who you are and what you stand for matters.
  8. The concept of perfection is a misnomer; true perfection is found in the supposed flaws.
  9. Routines are great until they become ruts.
  10. All your ducks will never be in a row; sometimes you just have to go for it.
  11. Meditation is actually very, very simple.
  12. The answers you seek are always within.
  13. Taking care of yourself allows you to care for others.
  14. There’s always a positive way to view something.
  15. Allowing yourself to stand in awe, makes life feel awesome.
  16. There’s something great about a family pet.
  17. Dancing, singing and skipping are totally energizing J
  18. Nothing beats fresh, homemade food.
  19. Talking and laughing with good friends is the best therapy on the planet.
  20. If you really, truly want something, you’ll find a way. Guaranteed.

yodaGasp!  Yoda Was Wrong!

“Do or do not, there is no try.” So said Yoda in one of the Star Wars movies (confession: I’m not actually a Star Wars fan, just someone who’s aware of a yoda-ism or two; hope this doesn’t make you think any less of me).

For a long time, I have loved this quote. The implication as I’ve understood it has been that you either do something, or you don’t. You don’t “try” to do anything. My sense is that Yoda would have us believe that the concept of “trying” is a bit of a misnomer.

If we look around us, there is actually evidence to support Yoda’s claim. Think about it; you can’t actually “try” to sit on a chair. You’ll either sit on it or you won’t. You can’t “try” to play an instrument; you’ll either play it or you won’t (whether you play it well or not is another story altogether). As you consider this quote, you can see the truth of it, can’t you? Well, I assert that if you consider it for a little longer, you’ll see that it’s wrong.

While the idea that you either do something or don’t is true to a certain degree, there are actually two additional truths that need to be considered alongside this yoda-ism. The first truth is this: as you do something repeatedly you actually get better at it. This applies in the context of playing an instrument that I pointed to earlier. While it’s true that you either play an instrument or you don’t, when it comes to creating music that is enjoyable and/or recognizable, this only comes about as you invest time and energy, as you strive for something more than merely the creation of a sound from said instrument. In short, as you TRY to create something more, you actually DO create something more.

The second truth is that there are actually achievements that are attained through a process of trying. Think about a child who slowly but surely moves toward the milestone of walking. At first, rest assured, she is NOT walking. But between the time that she isn’t walking and the time that she achieves her first, legitimate step, she is TRYING. She is investing time and energy and effort into a particular objective. This trying is very real. She is not yet walking – in the Yoda world, she is in the “do not” phase. But she’s not yet in the “do” phase either – she’s between, in the “trying” phase. And so, all you Yoda-lovers out there, there actually is a “try”.

I think what Yoda was actually getting at is that when you set your mind on a particular achievement, the question of whether or not you’ll get there becomes moot. Your mind is so powerful a tool, that once you determine that you will accomplish something, achieve a milestone, or reach an objective, the “trying” phase can almost be overlooked. That being said, I want you to understand that trying is actually still an essential part of the process. Trying is about the investment of whatever it takes to get where you want to go.

Bottom-line: if you truly want to achieve something, your commitment to that end alone will ensure its success. You cannot, however, overlook the investment of time, energy and resources that mark the time between the naming of the goal, and the achievement of that same goal. To get from A to B, you’ve got try. And, as the saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. This trying is actually what distinguishes ”do” from “do not”. Sorry Yoda, you had it wrong.

groundhogSix More Weeks Until WHAT?

Groundhog Day.  It’s a North American tradition – specific to Canada and the USA as far as I know.  Basic folklore says that on February 2nd, otherwise known as Groundhog Day, the groundhog will emerge from its burrow and if it sees its shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If it doesn’t see its shadow, then it’s only 6 more weeks until spring.  Or something like that. 

This tradition has baffled me for many years.  When I was younger, I didn’t really understand it; I heard it as “if the groundhog sees its shadow we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter; otherwise, it’s spring!!”  This, of course, doesn’t make any sense at all.  According to the calendar there are 6 more weeks of winter regardless.  The official first day of spring doesn’t arrive until March 20th (or is it the 21st??). 

At any rate, folklore aside, what I want to point to is this:  Groundhog Day and its corresponding folklore is a powerful example of the power of perspective.  I’ve written about this before and yet, from what I’m noticing in the world, I think the message bears repeating (several times, as the case may be).  What message?  This message:  the way you choose to view something, the perspective you hold on a given situation, plays a powerful part in determining the choices you’ll make and the way you’ll show up in the world.  Why does this matter?  Because the choices you make and the way you show up make a difference in how you live your life.

Let’s say, for example, that you choose to say that “there will be six more weeks of winter” as opposed to “there are six more weeks until spring”, where is your focus?  With the first statement, your focus is on winter, right?  Not only that, your focus is on the fact that there’s more winter to endure before the arrival of spring.  When you make the ever-so-slight shift to the statement, “there are six more weeks until spring” your focus is on spring, and on the ensuing countdown.  It’s a perspective of anticipation as opposed to endurance.  And when you’re anticipating or expecting something, the way you approach it is different than when you’re enduring something.  Do you see what I’m talking about?

So, if you take this lesson and extrapolate it to your life, the question I’ve got is this:  are you enduring things?  Or are you anticipating things?  Are you putting up with things?  Or are you looking forward to something?  There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these perspectives.  Each one is valid and rooted in a modicum of truth.  What changes, however, is the resulting attitude you’ll hold, the choices you’ll see and the outlook you’ll embrace.  When you stand in the place of anticipation, looking forward, there’s a way that you hold a certain excitement and joie de vivre.  When you stand in the place of enduring and putting up with things, your approach is instead one of trepidation and despondence.  Which one will serve you better?

I know that there are times where endurance is what makes sense.  This is especially true if you’re dealing with a crisis of sorts.  And yet, even in that crisis, when you can shift your focus to one of anticipation – even if only for a moment – there’s a way that you can navigate the challenges with just a bit of ease.  Understand, this isn’t about pretending that the challenge or crisis doesn’t exist.  Instead, it’s about understanding that even while the challenge is there, there is something to look forward to.  No matter what storm you’re weathering, the sun will come out in the days ahead.

Bottom-line:  when it comes to getting the most out of your life, living it as fully as possible, and creating all that you want for yourself, there’s something to be said for getting deliberate about your perspective and approach.  Over the next six weeks, will you endure?  Or will you anticipate?  Or will you choose something else altogether?  Find out what will serve you best.  Then choose that approach to your life.

Full length of young men and women holding cellphoneDid You Get My Message?

When I look at the world today, I confess: I’m in awe of the technology that surrounds us. I’m amazed at the dexterity with which young children can navigate websites and keyboards. I’m in awe of how quickly information is transmitted around the globe – it’s literally a matter of seconds in most cases.  And I love the ease with which we can do so much at the click of a button; things that in the past would have taken days or weeks and involved multiple individuals and steps can now be done in minutes (hours if we’re on a slow internet connection). The world-wide-web has transformed our world so that it’s almost unrecognizable from two decades ago (which really is not that long ago, if you think about it). With all of this ease and convenience, there’s a trend that I’ve noticed in the world of communication in particular. Whether you’re looking at personal communications or professional is irrelevant. The same trend exists, the same needs appear, and the same expectations abound. At its very core, communication has become an instantaneous thing – and as such, it has produced a need for instant gratification in turn. Let me explain.

Texting, emailing, instant messaging – these are the most current methods of communication for many at this time in history, although phone calls still happen from time to time. These methods of communication happen immediately, in real time (barring, as aforesaid, some sort of connection blip).  Because these links are instantaneous, and because so many of you live attached to your electronic communications devices, there is an expectation (albeit unwritten and unarticulated in most cases) for instant reply. Consider the following:

I text you, you get the text, you respond, NOW. 

Or, you email me, I read the email, and I reply, NOW.

I phone your cell (I know you’ve got it on you, why wouldn’t you?) and so you pick up, NOW.

Can you see the pattern? Can you relate? Do you understand what I’m talking about?

Admittedly, most of us are able to draw SOME boundaries around this. We turn off our devices when in meetings, and we’re learning to not text and drive.  Overall, however, there is an expectation of immediate connection that is infiltrating our world, and it’s causing more harm than good.

1)      Our capacity to be patient is diminishing. So often I see individuals — clients, colleagues, friends, family, myself – in a seeming state of being unable to wait for an answer. Thumb twiddling, nervous twitching, staring at a phone, willing it to ring, beep or otherwise signal an incoming message.

2)      We’re losing our ability to problem-solve. When a solution to a problem isn’t immediately forth-coming I notice employees sending a quick email or text to their superiors – and those superiors are responding with a solution, rather than allowing the employee to come up with a solution on their own.

3)      We’re missing out on opportunity for real, genuine meaningful connection in favour of these “pseudo-connections”. You sent me an email yesterday, why would we need to get together and chat?

So, what to do about this? How do we embrace the benefits of modern, technological advances, without falling prey to the challenges of the same?

1)      Keep drawing the boundaries. And draw some more. Challenging yourself to turn your phone off for a day during the weekend ensures that you and those around you find other ways (more meaningful ways) to connect.

2)      As a leader, challenge your employees to email/phone/text you ONLY in emergencies. Open door policies are great, being available to your team is great, but not if you’re inadvertently disempowering your people. Let them figure things out.

3)      When you don’t get an immediate response, move on to something else. My experience tells me that there really is very little that can’t wait. And part of our opportunity right now is being able to discern what those few genuinely immediate needs are.

 Bottom-line: these are exciting times we live in. So much is available to us, so much can be done that we couldn’t even dream of not that long ago. That being said, when it comes to our communication patterns, we’ve got to ensure that we’re still communicating with one another in rich, meaningful, reasonable ways. We’ve got to step away from the “instant gratification” trend that seems to be emerging in this area. In short, we need to be willing to wait a bit, and trust that the world will still go on, even if our answer is received 5 minutes from now, rather than in 5 seconds.

failure-success.jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-516,282Want to Succeed? Get Ready to Fail

I know that I’ve addressed this topic before.  As we begin a new year, however, given that everyone seems to be setting goals and objectives with a view towards success, it feels prudent to share some insights on this again.

You see, everyone wants to succeed at whatever it is they’re engaged in. Success is a good thing – it provides a sense of accomplishment, of completion, of having arrived. In pursuing success, however, we often try to skip past a critical aspect of the experience. Overlooking this aspect deprives us of experiencing success as fully as we can.

What’s the missing aspect? What’s the missing link?

Failure.

Failure is an essential piece of the experience of success and too often, we dismiss its importance. It’s as though we expect to simply arrive at success, without any of the failures that inevitably lead to that milestone moment. Let me tell you, it’s not doable.

On some level I think we all know this. When you try something, it’s rare that you’re going to “nail it” right out of the gate. Most of the time, you have to try, and then try again, and again until eventually you succeed at whatever it is.

In spite of this knowing, however, we diminish the importance of failure as part of the journey to success. So much do we diminish it that, too many people stop themselves at the point of failure. In other words, they fail, they stop trying. Rather than seeing the moment of failure as “one step closer to the moment of success” it’s regarded as the moment to stop, to give up. As a result, you never succeed.

Another way to look at this? You simply will not succeed if you’re not willing to fail.

One of the things that I believe is necessary – one of the things that we’ve forgotten even as we’ve evolved as a species – is how to fail well. We celebrate successes all the time. What would become possible if, as part of the journey to success, we celebrate our failures? My personal sense is that there’s some merit in this.

Bottom-line: it’s important for us to stop trying to avoid failure and, if anything, seek it out as an experience that leads to our much desired success. Failure helps us achieve, whatever it is we’re striving for. If you’re truly committed to succeeding, start looking for ways to fail in service of that success. Trust me; every failure you experience brings you one step closer to your goal.

how-a-positive-attitude-leads-to-a-positive-outcomeAre You Ready to Find The Gold?

Over the years I’ve been accused of being a Polyanna. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, essentially it’s someone who always sees the bright side. Some find this an annoying tendency. I get it.

I won’t deny that my go-to response tends to be a “positive” one. Whether or not I’ve always been this way, I can’t say for sure. Certainly, it’s been a hallmark trait of my adult life, if not my childhood (although I suspect it showed up even way back then).

This is not to say that I can’t be cynical at times. Rest assured, my inner doubt and skepticism are alive and well – and they do come out to play, fairly often. That being said, I can usually move past these  seemingly negative responses and  on to more possibility-filled waters fairly quickly, no matter the circumstance. How?

First, I look around me and source out something for which to be grateful. Maybe it’s the circle of support around me when I’m feeling sad; maybe it’s my warm house when the weather outside is being its all-too-unpredictable Southwestern-Ontario self; maybe it’s the hot tea prepared for me by my loving husband when I’m feeling achy and stuffy. Whatever I find, I start there and express some gratitude.

Then, I stand in possibility. I ask the question, what is possible here? What’s the gift of this circumstance, no matter how grim it might seem? What am I learning about myself and my capacity? What do I know now, that I didn’t necessarily know before?

Third, I make a really conscious choice: a choice to allow the negative and positive to coexist, however that looks. In other words, I allow I choose to shift to a space of allowing. This allowing often takes the form of “it is what it is.” I know that this phrase can be somewhat nebulous – but it’s accurate at the same time. It contains no judgment, just an observation of the situation at hand. It creates space for the seemingly negative experience as well as the possibilities that might arise from it.

Finally, from this space of allowing and observation, I consciously move on. I put my focus on moving forward, however slowly, with whatever is, to a positive choice. I circle back to the second step, and bring that experience of possibility, that lesson, that gift to be the focus of my attention, as much as possible.

If you’re paying attention, I hope you’re noticing that my seemingly Pollyanna tendency isn’t about ignoring the bad stuff. Instead, it’s about allowing that stuff, even as I find the gold that’s buried somewhere in and amongst it all. Because what I know for sure – what life has taught me, is that it’s there. Yes, sometimes it’s buried pretty deep, And sometimes it takes quite a bit of digging to find it. If I’m willing to keep my eyes open, however, I do find it. Every single time.

Some might say I’m lucky. But I don’t think I’m any luckier than anyone else. I’m just as lucky as you and you’re just as lucky as me. The gold is there to be found, whenever you and I are willing to dig for it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter how rocky things might feel, I invite you to consider: are you ready to dig for the gold?

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