Character Creates Opportunity® – A Secret Nobody Talks About: Thursday, October 26, 2017

There seems to be no shortage of talkers in our world.  Traditional media, our school systems and our workplaces are all wired to recognize and reward the talkers.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in a world that highlights the loud and proud, we don’t want to miss the power of being quiet and listening to build healthy relationships, open dialogue with those who are hurting and establish the foundation to reach our hopes and dreams.

We all cherish the moment when we are truly being listened to and understood.

Just recently, some exciting new research has been released that demonstrates the power of our brains to relate to one another when we truly listen.  Research out of Princeton being led by neuroscientist Uri Hasson used complex mathematical analyses to map patterns of activity in the brain.  The research added the dimension of measuring the relationship between the pattern in one person’s brain and the pattern in another’s.

The research team recorded the brain activity of one person’s brain while they told a story and another person’s brain who was listening.  The two brain patterns showed a remarkable degree of correlation. The storyteller had literally gotten in to the listener’s brain and altered it not only on the logic-reasoning parts of the brain, but most importantly, on the emotional part of the brain.  By focusing on listening, the listener was able to match the brain of the storyteller.  The listener felt the emotions of the storyteller.

The research demonstrated over and over that when you listen to and understand another person, you experience the exact same brain pattern as that person.  It is as if you have experienced their experience.  The research demonstrated that our brains know little difference between our own experience and one we shared by listening to another. Our brains are impacted the same way.  Listening to another person can provide real insight into another person’s journey and help us understand.

In addition to these types of research insights and the so-called “experts” in the field, here are just a few thoughts to reinforce the importance of listening to build healthy relationships:

  1. Listening is the most simple and powerful way to demonstrate to someone that they matter. Our decision to listen meets a very important psychological need of all of us – to know we matter. Listening does not take a PhD in psychology, an extremely high IQ, or some position in the corner office.  All it takes is a simple decision to be silent and give someone our attention.
  2. As our world continues to grow more intense and complex, before we instinctively move to shout out our “brilliant opinion,” we should first choose to listen. As the research showed, when we listen, we actually feel the experience of the other person. This is a relevant and practical choice for our home, our workplace, and our community.  As with many other things, the greatest challenge is often listening to those that are closest to us in our home.  We mistakenly think we know them well enough because we have lived with them for so long that we don’t need to listen.  In addition, we may have allowed the obstacles of anger, frustration, and apathy to prevent us from listening the other side of the story…and there is always another side to the story.
  3. For most people, it is our painful experiences that have taught us the most and form the basis for many of the choices we make. However, we typically keep hidden those painful experiences from others. Being a good listener can help build a trusting, non-judgmental, and shame-free atmosphere which can eventually open a door to the sharing of those painful experiences to assist in a greater understanding of one another.  Understanding is the foundation for health in our relationships.

Listening, with the intent to understand, is a well-documented and practical approach to improve relationships.  As we make the decision to listen, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy and meaningful relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Finish Line? Thursday, October 19, 2017

We all like a good race.  Whether it is the 100 meter dash, the NYC Marathon, the Kentucky Derby, or a NASCAR race.  It is exciting to see the race and how participants cross the finish line.  There is a clear start and a clear finish.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we acknowledge the truth that there is no finish line concerning the important things in life like family, work, finances, and areas of service.  Even in death, our legacy carries on to impact those left behind.  We have to be careful to avoid the illusion of a finish line to our efforts.

There is a risk to reaching our full potential when we allow ourselves to establish some phantom finish lines that will determine our mindset and our effort.  We have probably all found ourselves at one time or another saying something like:

  • When I reach a certain income level, then I can get ahead of the bills and things will be ok
  • When the kids get out of diapers, then we will have some time and energy and things we be ok
  • When I get through this busy season, then I will have some time to re-connect with my spouse and our relationship will be ok
  • When I lose these 10 pounds, then I will feel better and things will be ok
  • When I reach a certain career milestone, then there won’t be as much stress and things will be ok
  • When I get this degree completed, then I can get my life in order and things will be ok

It is healthy to establish goals/milestones along the way to assess our progress, but there is a clear difference between a milestone achievement and a finish line ending the race to reach our full potential.

The reality is our journey through life is a lot like the business model of the software industry.  We launch with the 1.0 version.  We get out there in life, learn some things, see some new opportunities, and realize we didn’t plan for everything.  We then proceed to make a few improvements and then launch the 2.0 version…then 3.0 and we know how the story continues.

The illusion is that the next version will be the lasting version and all we will need.  Life continues to present us with new opportunities to learn and grow.  On the journey to reach our full potential, there is no final version.  We will continue to build skills and grow in wisdom and perspective.

If we don’t learn and grow, we miss our opportunity to maximize our impact on those things we care about most.

As we make the choice to live fully in the moment with the humility to know we are never done learning and growing, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to have a positive impact on those closest to us and in service to causes bigger than ourselves.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Quiet of the Morning: Thursday, October 12, 2017

As we move fully into the fall season, the quiet of the morning is much more noticeable than the early rising sun and chirping birds of summer.  With the time change that will be coming soon, the dark and quiet early mornings afford all of us the opportunity to reflect on the learnings of the past and prepare for what lies ahead.

In the busyness of life, we often fail to take a moment to reflect on where we have been and briefly remind ourselves on where we desire to go in order to build our energy to continue the journey. The quiet of the morning brought on at this time of year support the chance for some meaningful reflection to help us reach our hopes and dreams.

As we continue on our personal journey to build and strengthen our character, there is an opportunity in the quiet of the morning to reflect on day to day happenings and also on the big questions about what we desire to see in the years to come.

The Book of Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.”

Real world experience and academic research would reinforce the importance of determining clear goals and specific plans to achieve those goals in order to make meaningful progress on any endeavor.  In addition, psychologists would describe something called “purposeful imagination.” Basically, if we can clearly see ourselves achieving those goals, emotionally feel what we would feel like in achieving those goals, we build strength to endure the inevitable challenges we will face in achieving our goals.

We hear a great deal about “vision” and “purpose” statements for individuals, families, and organizations.  These are very powerful tools to focus effort and rally a group to a cause.  Many times, with the effort to hang a vision statement on a wall, we fail to reconnect consistently to that statement and over time, our direction drifts off course.

There is a significant opportunity to use the quiet of the morning to reflect on where we have been and where we desire to go, both today, and in the long journey of life.

When we take the time to look forward 5, 10, or 20 years, what do we see?

What is the state of our closest relationships?  Do we see relationships that have endured the inevitable ups and downs and continue to strengthen a mutual commitment to each other?  Do we see children that are productive members of the family, the community, and the workforce?  What is the legacy we leave behind to those that matter most?

What is the impact we are having over the years?

We all should work to develop the habit of consistently making time to reflect on the big questions of life.  Take a walk, sit outside, or just briefly look off in the distance during a slow period of a child’s practice to see what we truly desire to see in the years to come.

As we take the time to reflect on where we have been and where we desire to go, we will build energy to persevere on our journey and we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to not only see the future we desire, but make meaningful progress towards achieving it.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Avoidance Strategy: Thursday, October 5, 2017

Psychologists, social researchers in academia, and our own personal experience would say that the vast majority of us avoid having the difficult conversation to address lingering frustrations that inevitably come with relationships in the home, the workplace, and the community.

Leaders in the workplace often delay having the difficult performance discussion with an employee until it is just unavoidable and the team or project has been significantly impacted.

Couples in the home often avoid the known stress points or triggers in the relationship and keep their fingers crossed that it will just go away without a fight this time.

Communities often look the other way and sweep problems under the rug until one small action ignites a firestorm of the now unavoidable reality.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, demonstrating the wisdom and courage to address the difficult and uncomfortable topics will help us prevent the cancer of delay from spreading and destroying the long-term health of close relationships.

Emotion is often bound to a moment, but wisdom is always married to time.  We need wisdom to be effective in dealing with the complexity of life and that only comes with time and experience.

Here are just a few thoughts to address the avoidance strategy head on:

  1. Acknowledge the Truth: It is not easy to effectively have these types of discussions. Life is often sloppy and painful and addressing difficult issues does not come with paint by numbers instructions. It is not perfect, but it needs to be experienced, not avoided.
  2. Begin the Dialogue: When we avoid addressing the problem, we often create more problems. Unresolved issues do not go away, they just rear themselves in other ways. We learn and grow as we address challenges, so get started.
  3. Intent and Understanding are the Foundation: It is important to be genuine in our intent to move the relationship forward in a healthy way to achieve the long-term goals of the team, the family, or the community. Seek understanding first as we do not see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are and our experiences and attitudes bring about a host preconceived notions and biases.
  4. Don’t Lose Hope: We may often find ourselves in a tough spot in our homes, our close relationships, and in our community. We will learn and grow through addressing difficult issues and even if they don’t get adequately resolved, we will be setting a great example for those closest to us that we don’t give up. Keep hope alive.

As we strive to reach our full potential in our lives and in our relationships, we will always have difficult issues to address and the avoidance strategy is just not an effective option.  We learn and grow as we work through difficult issues and the wisdom we gain will help us build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our hopes and dreams.