Character Creates Opportunity® – Personal Skills (Part I): Thursday, June 30, 2016

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, there are two personal skills that throughout history have been critical to ensuring lasting success in building healthy relationships and having a positive impact in our life’s effort.  The first of these skills will be covered this week and the second will be addressed in next week’s blog.

There is one skill that has been proven over and over again to be a stronger predictor of lifelong success than any other including IQ, social class, formal education etc.  Philosophers in ancient civilizations, the world’s major religions, and modern day psychologists all speak to the importance of building this personal skill in order to best position us to have a life of positive impact.

The personal skill deemed critical is self-control in the form of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later, often greater and more enduring reward.

The personal skill to resist the pull of instant gratification to meet an immediate need by focusing on a longer term goal is worthy of our attention as we build and strengthen our character.

In the modern era, there were two important studies initiated in the 1960s and 70s that formally measured the long term impact of delayed gratification that set in motion numerous repeat studies that have continually proved the importance of this skill to a life of positive impact.

The Dunedin (New Zealand) children’s study and the Marshmallow Test conducted at Stanford University.

The children of Dunedin (over 1,000 kids born over a single 12 month period) were studied throughout their school years on numerous skills including their tolerance for frustration and their ability to concentrate and exercise self-control.  They were followed up over 2 decades later and assessed across of series of measurements for health, wealth, relationships, and crime rates.

The Marshmallow Test basically placed 4 year olds in a room with their favorite treat (in most cases Marshmallows).  Researchers told the children that they can have one marshmallow right now if they wanted it.  However, if they did not eat it until the researcher came back after taking care of a few tasks, they could have two marshmallows.  About one third of the kids held off until the researcher came back about 15 minutes later and were rewarded with 2 marshmallows.  The children were followed up decades later and assessed on a number of important aspects of life.Right and wrong nutrition. Burger and apple.

In both seminal studies, the results were clear.  The kids who demonstrated the skill of delayed gratification had a lifelong difference in terms of healthy relationships, financial well-being, low crime rates and a host of other positive outcomes.  Self-control, in the form of delayed gratification, proved to be a stronger predictor than any traditional measure.

Studies like the ones at Dunedin and Stanford have been repeated and demonstrated similar outcomes.  Today’s academics have demonstrated strong evidence in support of the teachings of ancient philosophers and the world’s major religions.

The capacity to develop self-control demonstrated by these kids, and the same can be said for adults in the journey to live a life of positive impact, can be summarized in two important areas:

  1. The ability to mentally and emotionally disengage from the object of our immediate desire (a marshmallow, my need to be “right” in an argument, protect my reputation, effectively cover my insecurities, etc.)
  2. The ability to focus on a larger, longer term goal (like two marshmallows or a healthy relationship in our home).

In very practical terms for all us, the ability to build healthy relationships starts with (a) our ability to disengage from the strong pull to meet our own immediate selfish desires and (b) our ability to take a deep breath and realize the more significant goal of a healthy, positive, long term relationship is what we are striving for.

As we put effort into developing our self-control to resist instant gratification and focus on the long term goals of health in our relationships and having a positive impact on our surroundings, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to reach our full potential and set an example for others to follow.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Remaining Relevant: Thursday, June 23, 2016

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  “You are out of touch with today.”

When facing the speed of change in our homes, the marketplace, and our community, we all have probably heard, said or thought these phrases on more than one occasion.  Typically, as individuals get set in their ways, either in a job or in their home life, the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is said to address a personal short-coming or to rationalize another person’s response to something new and different. The normal dialogue back and forth between generations typically results in someone in a younger generation responding to an older person, hopefully as respectfully as possible, with “you are out of touch with today.”

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, ensuring we remain relevant to those around us will help us have a positive impact on others for many years to come.  There are two principles that can help all of us remain relevant to those around us as we continue on our journey:  (1) We need to remain teachable throughout life and (2) We need to remain open to learn from anyone by minimizing the barrier of prejudgment.

Remain Teachable:

There is no denying the fact that our world continues to grow in complexity.  The issues we face in many areas of our lives will not be effectively addressed with the techniques that worked a few decades or even a few years ago.  We need to find more effective ways to deal with our reality.

The pace of change in most of our markets is lightning fast and business leaders need to continue to seek improved solutions to add greater value in order to remain relevant.  In our homes, whether it is managing our finances, maintaining a strong marriage, or being a more effective parent, our environment continues to grow in complexity and many times we are trying to navigate in uncharted waters.  The principles of love, understanding, compassion, etc. are timeless and will always remain relevant.  However, how we deliver on those principles needs to adjust with the changing environment.Jon walking off football field

As we make the choice to remain teachable, we become well positioned to remain relevant to those around us.  Blaming someone else, or worse yet, in our own mind saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” will work to weaken our impact.

Remain Open:

In addition to remaining teachable to stay relevant, we need to remain open to understand and learn from anyone.  Generationally speaking, the young should remain open to learn from the wisdom of the old and the old should remain open to learn from the new perspective and energy of the young.  In addition, diversity of experience, background, gender, race, etc. provide potentially valuable perspectives to understand and learn from.

Both academic research and our own practical experience, would demonstrate that many times we prejudge the potential teacher with our own thoughts of: “What can we learn from him? He has never worked in our industry.” “She does not have a degree in this particular field, what could she possibly teach us?” “He is an old man, there is no way he can relate to what I am dealing with.” “She is only a teenager, what could she share that would change what we already know?”

Diversity provides a great foundation for learning.  Many times we prejudge diversity of thought or expression and quickly close the door to learning from others.  Making the choice to remain open and willing to learn from others who may appear ‘different’ than us will help us remain relevant to those around us.

Prejudging people because they are ‘different’ or allowing ourselves to fall into ‘group-think’ that quiets their voice, will work to weaken our character and hinder us from reaching our full potential.

As we work to remain teachable and remain open to learn from others, not just those who look and act like us, are from our generation, or share a similar set of life experiences, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to remain relevant to those around us and continue to have a positive impact in our life’s journey.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Vision and Action: Thursday, June 16, 2016

We all admire those individuals who see things that others may not and then have the courage to take action.  Whether it is an opportunity in business, an opportunity to help someone in need, an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of others, or an opportunity to inspire those who are down and almost out.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is the combination of vision and the courage to take action that we most often find at the foundation of opportunities that make a positive impact on individuals, organizations and our world.

Among all the stories that were told a few weeks ago while celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali, there was one story that was not often shared, but speaks to vision and the courage to take action to make a positive impact in our world.

The Bayonne BleederThe story of Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, who knocked down Muhammad Ali in the 1975 title fight.  Ali went on to win the fight with a technical knockout in the 15th and final round.  It was while observing that fight, Sylvester Stallone was inspired to write the story of Rocky. He spent the better part of three straight days writing the script immediately after the fight.  He then persevered through countless rejections of the script until he finally landed a studio contract.  The movie went on to have a major impact in the box office and in the lives of so many people.

Some thirty years later, most of us still get a little inspiration when we hear the theme song to Rocky.

Most people were just watching a great fight between Muhammad Ali and the Bayonne Bleeder, but one individual, Sylvester Stallone, saw something that others did not and then had the courage to take action.

As we look to build and strengthen our character through the ability to see what needs to be done and then getting things done, here are a few thoughts along the way:

  • Are we just along for the ride in our lives at home, at work and in our community or are we looking for the opportunity to make a positive impact?
  • Are we just watching or are we looking with an eye towards finding a more effective way?
  • Are we seeing hope and inspiration or are we seeing fear and doubt?
  • Are we just talking about an opportunity or do we have the courage to step in the ring and take action?

As we become more proactive in looking for an opportunity to make a positive impact and we develop the courage to take action, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Heart Checkup: Thursday, June 9, 2016

In our fast paced world, it is easy to get caught up in highlighting what is on the surface.  We draw quick conclusions on social status, wealth, education, resumes and appearances.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important to reinforce the real health and wealth of all of us, is measured on the inside…the quality of our heart.  Medical stethoscope and red toy heart lying on cardiogram chartOur heart, or character, is our internal compass that drives our thoughts, decisions, and actions.  Our character is built and strengthened over time by thoughts, decisions, and actions that are based on timeless and universal principles like honesty, service, and perseverance.

We all remember the story of David and Goliath.  Well, before that big showdown between David and the giant Goliath, when God was directing the choice for the next king of Israel, He reinforced the truth that “People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).  David was chosen to be the next king because of the quality of his heart long before the people witnessed his courage in defeating the giant Goliath.

Just like we periodically go to the doctor to get a routine physical and a checkup on our heart, we need to be reminded to do a heart checkup on our character.  The questions on our heart checkup may sound something like:

  • Are we willing to turn toward a problem or do we walk/run away from it?
  • Are we willing to serve a purpose greater than our own or do we just focus on ourselves?
  • Are we willing to be proactive to help or are we still waiting for someone to ask?
  • Are we willing to remain humble in great achievements and persevere in the face of failure?
  • Are we willing to accept the truth that there is no finish line for the important things in life?

Our heart, or character, stays strong and healthy when our thoughts, decisions, and actions are guided by principles like loyalty, courage, and commitment. As we build and strengthen our character it is important to reinforce that Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our hopes and dreams regardless of our situation.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Small Steps That Matter: Thursday, June 2, 2016

“Someday never comes” – John Fogerty, lead singer for Credence Clearwater Revival

For many reading this blog, the rhythm from that song and the music of CCR brings back a few memories of their youth (others maybe saying, “Who in the world is John Fogerty and CCR?”).  As we continue to build and strengthen our character, an important topic to address is the need to take small steps of action today, rather than putting things off.

Let’s face it, we all know the basics of things we should do to strengthen important relationships, improve our health, expand our thinking, or be better positioned to grow in our career.  Many times, our excuse for not doing these things is that it is just not the “right time” to take small steps in the right direction.  “I will go back to school once the kids get a little older”…”I will forgive once the sting of the betrayal subsides a little more”…”I will reach out to that family member once I get through this busy time at work”…”I will get back to exercising in the springtime”.  Well, as we have all experienced, many times that “right time” never comes about or when it does, we have a host of other self-described obstacles to the next “right time.” In the worst of scenarios, that individual or opportunity is gone forever and it becomes a painful, lingering regret that we struggle to shake off.

An important aspect of building and strengthening our character is the simple act of taking action to continue moving forward in what we know in our heart is the right direction.  Today’s message is not about dropping everything and pursuing that big bold idea that has been weighing on your soul (if that fits you, great, but that is not the intent of this message).  Today’s message is more about taking a few small steps that matter toward what we know is needed.

Some of our biggest opportunities to build and strengthen our character involve taking action in our relationship with others.  We all have a tendency to avoid the difficult face to face conversations to repair a troubled relationship.  It is never easy and the emotional pain from prior struggles remains with us and makes it even harder to re-engage.  Relationships are the fabric of our lives and will always be intertwined with every endeavor of life.  Maintaining healthy relationships, especially with those closest to us, is worth the effort, and it is our character that will create opportunities to bring health into troubled relationships.Shy woman and man sitting on sofa

Throughout history (and even in this digital age) there has been one small step that has helped many, including myself, to begin to address a strained relationship that has fallen off the tracks. Try writing a letter.  Yes, an old fashioned, hand-written letter.  Nobody gets these anymore and I can almost guarantee that an individual in a very troubled relationship will still open a letter and read it in the quiet of their own time.  Keep it short with a focus on care and concern versus justifying or blaming.  Let the letter be a first step to softening defenses and perhaps open a door to reconnect and a path toward restoration.  If nothing else, you can be at peace knowing you took some small step of action to ensure “someday” finally came.

The cold hard reality of life is that many times the letter does not even need a stamp as the relationship we need to restore is within our home.

As we take small steps in the right direction, when we know it is needed, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build strong healthy relationships, especially in our home.