Character Creates Opportunity® – The Typical Question: Thursday, March 31, 2016

There is no doubt that we learn and grow through experience.  “Experience is the mother of all learning,” so the saying goes.  Most psychologists would add to that statement and say that we learn the most during difficult and painful experiences.

The typical question we ask when life gets tough is “why?”  “Why is this happening to me?” “Of all possible times, why now?”  As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, how we respond to the typical question “why” will make all the difference in reaching our full potential.Business man hand writing FAQ acronym

Some answers to the question “why” are pretty easy to figure out and relatively direct.  Why did I wreck the car? Well, I was texting and driving.  Why did I fail the test?  Well, I did not study.  Why did we not reap an abundant harvest this year?  Well, we did not spend time preparing the land, cultivating the crops during the growing season, and we were just hoping the fall would bring forth a great harvest.

Many times there is not a logical or practical response around the “why” question:

  • Why am I or a loved one suffering a life threatening disease or illness?
  • Why are some of my closest relationships continuing to struggle?
  • After 15 years of hard work, why was I the next person called during the downsizing?
  • Why can’t I just catch a break every once in a while?

The cold, hard reality in this life is that we will never know the answer to many of the difficult “whys” is our lives.

Below are a few thoughts to help walk down a more effective path when we face difficult times and want to ask why:

  • It is quite typical to ask “why me” and “why now” during a struggle. We should not beat ourselves up for being human and asking the “why me” question every now and again.  It is not helpful to linger a long time with these questions, but it is ok to acknowledge we are human and the question is in the back of our minds from time to time.
  • Acknowledge the reality that there probably is not an easy, logical explanation for the present struggle. Simply playing the “it is their fault” blame game on complex issues such as close relationships or work related struggles is not helpful.  There is usually enough responsibility to go all around on the complex struggles in life.
  • Gain perspective and peace quickly that there is an opportunity to learn and grow in the pain and struggle. The one gift that is there for the taking in difficult times is the learning and personal growth we can receive as an outcome from the experience.  When we can develop a mindset of continually personal growth, we can ensure we are on a path to reach our full potential
  • Focus on moving forward. We know there will be unavoidable difficulties and painful experiences that we will encounter. There will definitely be things we said or did that we genuinely wish we could take back and ‘do over.’  However, there are no ‘do overs’ in the life we are living.  We just need to keep moving forward in the direction of our hopes and dreams.

Life can only be lived in the present moment.  As we focus on learning and growing instead of trying to answer the “why” questions, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy relationships and the chance to have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Standing in the Gap: Thursday, March 17, 2016

If I were to ask you, “What are the most difficult problems you face today?’

What would you say?

Maybe you are in a real struggle with a close relationship.  Maybe you feel stuck in a job that is not satisfying.  Maybe you or a loved one have health issues that are all consuming.  Maybe you are facing a difficult financial situation. Maybe you feel flooded with commitments and obligations. Maybe you are struggling to find meaning and purpose.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, how we fill the gap between our current problems and our response to those problems can make a world of difference in bringing about the outcome desired.

Whether we look at documents of history, read psychology textbooks, or review our own personal experience, we would come to the cold, hard reality that we only bring about positive change and personal growth in our lives when we face difficult and painful situations.

Discontent and frustration over our current situation is the first step in growth.

The gap between our struggle and our response presents our opportunity for positive change.Mountain landscape. Caucasus. Georgia

When we stand in that gap, what do we do?

What do we do with the normal and unavoidable frustrations between a parent and a growing teenager?

What do we do with the inevitable frustrations between couples?

What do we do when faced with a teacher in school who seems unreasonable and illogical?

What do we do when a missed promotion at work seems so unfair?

When we stand in the gap between those difficult situations and our response with thoughts and decisions based on principles like courage, hope, responsibility, and understanding, we build and strengthen our character and are best positioned for growth and a positive outcome.

When we stand in the gap with thoughts, decisions, and actions guided by anger, apathy, and the death-nail of relationships, contempt, we weaken our character and most certainly bring about an undesired outcome.

The reality is that some of these issues are complicated and intense.  It all certainly sounds much easier said than done.  However, all good and worthy things start with a strong foundation.  The foundation that can best fill the gap between extremely challenging personal struggles and our response is built on principle.  Principles like courage, honesty, commitment, and hope can build a strong foundation to bring about positive change.

Building a strong foundation is a simple, daily choice we can all make.

As we build a strong foundation on principle, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to make the most effective choice when we stand in the gap between our situation and our response.


Character Creates Opportunity® – A Harmful Question: Thursday, March 10, 2016

“Will this be on the test?”  This single question is probably the most dreaded question for any teacher to hear from a student. In a moment’s time, that question erases all aspiration for learning in the classroom, sets the foundation for a low bar in our educational experience and if we are not careful, for life itself.Businesswomen

When that question is asked, we expose the raw motivations of a student who just wants to get by.  If we are honest with ourselves, we all asked that question in the classroom or in our minds as the teacher began covering another topic.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be intentional about not asking that same question in other areas of life.  We face a significant risk of failing to reach our full potential when all we care about is just getting by in the near term.

Most adults will acknowledge that one of the biggest shortfalls in our academic experience was that we focused on just making it through to graduation, grades were the only benchmark, and we were not really trying to learn the material.  Doing whatever it took to just get by.

The mindset of doing just enough to get through the experience is a huge headwind against ever reaching our full potential.  A “Will this be on the test?” mindset is harmful in many areas of our lives:

  • In the workplace, we fail to stretch and grow. We add minimal value to the business and the people we work with to achieve our collective objectives.  When the downsizing happens, we may find ourselves on the wrong list.
  • On the home front, we risk casting a shadow on those closest to us that the minimum is just fine and we create habits that lay the foundation for a limited impact in our world.
  • In our areas of service beyond home and work, well, truth be told, if all we care about is what is on the test, we probably are not venturing beyond the minimum of work and putting food on the table.

As we look to learn and grow in our life’s journey instead of just asking “Will this be on the test?”, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on our world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Sledgehammer of Hindsight: Thursday, March 3, 2016

We are all familiar with the adage that “Hindsight is 20:20.”  With the benefit of looking back, many times we can see mistakes more clearly and we can assess weaknesses. The adage is rarely used in the context of looking back upon brilliant decisions that brought about great results.  Psychologists use various terms to describe the process: Hindsight bias, the knew-it-all-along effect, and creeping determinism are just a few.

Let’s face it, we all have made and we will continue to make a few mistakes along our way.meetingoftheminds_road_HWY_plane

Given we all have influence on those around us in the many roles we play whether they are in the home, the workplace, and the community, we need more effective ways to discuss mistakes and move beyond the hard-wired tendency to use hindsight as a sledgehammer to pound home the lessons brought on by mistakes and less than satisfactory outcomes.

As we build and strengthen our character, we have an opportunity to use the benefit of hindsight to positively influence another individual to make more effective decisions as they continue the journey.

The typical conversation flow from the clarity of 20:20 hindsight is to sledgehammer mistakes made with comments like “I told you so” or “If you had listened to me in the first place” or “What were you thinking?” These comments have been shown to have very little positive impact on improving decision making and are detrimental to maintaining open communication with those we care about most.

Below are a few ways to more effectively use the benefits of hindsight and avoid using the Sledgehammer of Hindsight on those we care about most:

  • Understand the thought process: Don’t start the discussion highlighting the outcome as that is the obvious part of the equation. Instead, start a discussion to better understand what the facts were at the time when initial decisions were made.  “What did you know to be true at the beginning?” Understanding an individual’s thought process around known facts is as area of great opportunity to grow and develop.  Many times it is fears, anxieties, and past mistakes that cloud our ability to objectively assess today’s facts and make effective decisions.
  • Assess the commitment. Once a decision was made, addressing the commitment demonstrated to carry out the decision is another area of great insight to help someone reach their full potential.  Once the facts are gathered and a decision is made, it is the personal commitment to carry out the decision that most often determines the outcome.  The half-hearted commitment is a potential drag on all of us throughout life.  

Avoiding the Sledgehammer of Hindsight in discussing mistakes with those we care about most will demonstrate empathy and support improved decision making in the future.  In addition, we stand a better chance of keeping lines of communication open which are so often shut down in our homes with those we care about most.   

As we use the benefits of hindsight to positively impact those around us, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build long lasting health in our relationships.