The Steps of Resilience (Part I) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, March 28, 2019

As we all continue to wrestle with a world that grows more complex, intense, and uncertain, we often hear from the world’s foremost thinkers, doers, and motivators…and occasionally from the well-meaning, kitchen table coach within our inner circle, that we just need to be more resilient to reach our hopes and dreams in this world. While I am sure we all agree that resilience, sometimes referred to as grit, is a critical component to reaching our full potential, we are many times left wondering how to deliver on it after the pump-up speech has ended.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, resilience is one of those principles we need to have in our quiver to be our best for those we care about most. The next two blog posts will be about bringing some practical, proven steps to strengthen our resilience as a key dimension of our character.

There are several ways to describe resilience and for brevity’s sake we will just simply define it as the mental, emotional, and physical strength to continue on after a difficult setback or failure. If we lived more than a few years in this world, we have encountered what probably seems like to us more than our fair share of disappointment, despair, failure, and a few other unpleasant experiences in our roles in the home, work, and community. We are all still nursing a few wounds despite the costume party we still attend on most days.

For Part I on this message, the first important step to be resilient after a setback is to refocus on Purpose.

Similar to a boxer after getting knocked down and feeling a bit dizzy, when we experience a tough setback it can literally take our breath away and cause us to be somewhat unstable and on shaky ground. The purpose of that boxer is to catch his breath, get back to his feet, and refocus on the Purpose of winning the fight.

When we can take our first step and re-focus on our Purpose (being a loving parent, a committed spouse, a hard-worker, a loyal friend, an intentional servant where there is a need, etc.) we accomplish several things in the context of being resilient:

  • Purpose helps us take the long-term view. When we can refocus on the long-term goal, we are more emotionally effective in handling the near-term obstacles that come our way.
  • Purpose has a palpable rallying cry that helps us muster our internal strength to rise up and get back into the fight. We all possess the capacity to fight the good fit when we have a purposeful life. When we can refocus on purpose, we tap into an inner reserve of strength.
  • Purpose provides us focus to channel what energy we have left to carry on. Without a clear purpose, we wander aimlessly and burn up a great deal of energy inefficiently. Purpose harnesses our limited energy to get back into the fight.   

As we refocus on our Purpose after experiencing a setback or disappointment, we will take the first step in becoming resilient which will help us build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most.

In Part II next week, we will touch on the second step in becoming resilient to more effectively handle the challenges we face in our lives.

Proceed with Caution – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, March 21, 2019

There has been a great deal of discussion around the world recently over the benefits and challenges of our transparent, instant communications via social media. It is quite typical in the natural evolution of new technologies to have questions raised and some words of caution expressed. As we all remain actively engaged in our online social networks with no apparent indication of slowing down, there is the occasional need for a few reminders of the guardrails that can keep us out of harm’s way.

The world of marketing, current events, sports, and entertainment have all captured the trend and most of our information gathering is done online. The average person spends a significant amount of time on social media every day. Rather than pounding out the traditional hourly statistics (which do vary quite a bit), suffice to say our appetite for online activity is not going to slow down any time soon. 

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, our online activities, specifically our activities via social media, need to proceed with caution to ensure we remain connected and safe with those we care about most.

With 2+ billion people being relatively active on social media every day around the world, there is huge leverage to being connected in order to remain relevant, timely, and current on the events in our world, neighborhoods, and family and friends. The instantaneous sharing of information is a great draw for efficient learning and growth. However, researchers would say there are also a few reminders that are needed to ensure we don’t slip off the road and end up in the ditch with some poor social media habits.

Below are a few guardrails to help us proceed with caution and continue to enjoy the benefits of our connected world:

  • Everything is Perfect.

Most updates we see from family, friends, and those in our community are positive and upbeat. We love to share some great family events, a night out on the town, some wonderful celebration with friends, etc. It is important that we don’t get caught up playing the comparison game and in some personal moment of feeling down, add fuel to the fire by perhaps thinking our life is not as fun, cool, and satisfying as everyone else.

Very few people post a nice video update of the time they lost their temper, slammed a door, and said something they regretted. However, we all still do those things even though they don’t make our social media feed. It is important that we remain grounded in the fact that we only see a certain side of life online and we should avoid playing the comparison game in our heads.

  • Scrolling with Anger.

When we have the occasional disagreement or fallout with a friend or family member, it can be tempting to spend time alone scrolling over some activity to continue to stir the pot on our frustration. In the quiet of our scrolling, we can run the risk of getting into a negative place with our thoughts of others. It would not be a healthy choice to swirl in anger online. We would be wise to just simply cancel a connection with someone or close down the feed and walk away. Nothing good comes from anger expressed on line.

  • Physical Presence.

With all the upside on staying connected online, there is a degree of empathy and the benefits of physical presence that are lost when most of our social interaction is done via social media. It is important we remember to get engaged face to face and touch those we care about most from time to time to keep life real and connected. There is a genuine risk that as our world becomes more connected online, we become more disconnected and we lose the critical benefits of face to face communication and physical touch that is needed to keep our close relationships healthy and secure. 

One additional note to keep us all a bit restrained and to ensure we proceed with caution with our online activity. Unlike generations before, our online personal activity stays around forever. Everyone has access to our activity if they want to search hard enough. Someone is always watching, and it can always be easily traced directly back to us. Proceed with caution.

As we continue to enjoy the benefits of our interconnected world online and we proceed with caution with a few solid guardrails, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be a great example for those we care about most.

Taking a Shortcut – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, March 14, 2019

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  

As things like technology continue to transform our lives in so many ways, we are still hindered by some of the basic human tendencies to look for a shortcut in the important and very challenging situations in our lives. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Another college admissions scandal where people were trying to find a shortcut to get into some of the best schools in the nation.
  • Politicians who pitch sound-bite ideas to solve some of the most complex, multi-generational challenges of our nation.
  • A dizzying amount of relationship quick fixes that bring the false-hope of making conflict and despair quickly disappear from our closest relationships.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we swallow an adult dose of reality and fully appreciate that there are no shortcuts to making a sustained difference in the important things in life.

Let’s face it, we all would like a shortcut to solving some challenges. “There has to be an easier way” is a recurring theme when we face a difficult challenge. There may well be a few efficiencies or techniques that can help, but there is no “easy” way to address the more challenging events in our lives.

Here are a few reminders of truth as we tackle challenges in our lives:

  1. It is getting close to springtime in many parts of the country. The spring season reminds us of the one basic natural law that directly translates into a relevant, practical, and universal truth necessary to accomplish our hopes and dreams: The Law of the Harvest; simply, you reap what you sow. There is no short cut to an abundant harvest. We must prepare the ground and plant the seed in spring and cultivate the crops throughout the summer growing season in order to reap an abundant harvest. Achieving the important things in life adhere to this same simple truth…with no exception.
  2. Universal principles like persistence, courage, compassion and hope are needed to guide us to achieving the important things in life. A quick-fix has never been shown to have a sustained impact over the long haul.  A few helpful techniques do come about over time, but it is time-tested principles that form the foundation to eventually bring about the results we are desiring to achieve. 
  3. Extending the opportunity to others for a second chance, especially those closest to us, is important to the long-term health of close relationships. If we are self-aware enough and take an honest look at our own personal history, we probably have made some decisions to find a shortcut or we took the bait for a seemingly cheap, easy way to accomplish some major goals. Our poor choices may not have made the national news (which I am sure we are all thankful for) so we should guard against getting too personally judgmental on those that did have the spotlight shine on them and simply let the scales of justice handle the process.  Perhaps extending the opportunity for a second chance will help them in their time of need. I am sure we would appreciate some support if we found ourselves in a similar situation.  

As we all move into springtime, let’s use the reminder of the law of the harvest to guide us to principle-based decisions and actions in facing our challenges, both big and small. As we avoid some troublesome shortcut, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity to achieve our goals no matter how difficult they may seem in our present situation.

Carefree driving on an empty road at sunset

Feeling Stupid – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, March 7, 2019

It has been said that discontent with our current situation is the first step in driving change. When things get bad and the pain of continuing our current path is greater than the perceived pain to change, then we begin the journey to change. When we get so sick and tired of our current situation then we make the effort to change. 

As we reflect on our own experience, we would probably see a similar pattern of delay until we reach the end of our rope and then we rally the strength and courage to change our ways.

After we overcome the first step and decide to change, it is often the second step that derails our efforts. When we change and try something new, the next step in the process is that we feel stupid (or incompetent, inadequate, or foolish). 

  • How did you feel when you first tried to snowboard?
  • How did you feel when you first tried to do yoga?
  • How do you feel each time your phone gets an upgrade with some new software?
  • How do you feel when you try to make a difference in your home and try something new?

As we try something new, we often feel stupid and sense a difficult road ahead with the new endeavor and we back off from effectively making the change.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, finding ways to effectively deal with this second step in making a change will be critical for us to reach our full potential.

Our world continues to change at a rapid pace. If we are unwilling to learn new skills and adjust our behavior from time to time to be more effective, then we will soon find ourselves falling behind and not being our best for those we care about most.

Here are a few thoughts on helping all of us move more effectively through the second step of the change process, the sense of feeling stupid:

  1. Safety in numbers. Everyone feels stupid when they begin a new task…they may not show it as much as we feel it, but the truth is, everyone feels a bit inadequate from time to time.
  2. No pain, no gain. Ok, it is an overused phrase, but it is truth. Just like starting a new exercise routine, we know we are going to feel a bit sore as we work muscles in some new ways. Our experience would tell us that we do feel better in the end.
  3. Take baby steps. There is no need to take huge leaps into change. Small steps can build massive momentum over time. Just keep stepping forward and we will get better at the new task.
  4. Stay humble. Stumbling through new areas to learn and grow keeps us humble. Maintaining our humility is a good thing for ourselves and the example we set for others. Even is the best of times when we appear to be crushing it in this world, we don’t want to get too proud of ourselves…it can be super painful when we fall from a high place.  

As we become more intentional about working through the feeling of being stupid when we try new things, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and be our best for those we care about most.

Beautiful elderly woman looking at a smartphone

Addressing Resistance – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, February 28, 2019

There was a recruiting campaign that the US Army developed in the 1980s called “Be All You Can Be.”  Even though the US Army has launched several effective themes since (“Army of One” and “Army Strong”), the “Be All You Can Be” theme continues to resonate in popular culture as it speaks to reaching our individual potential.

Even when we genuinely care about making progress towards being our best for those we care about most, there is always some level of resistance to keep moving forward.  Whether it is our own experiences, the opinions of others, or the unfortunate “poor timing” of our last effort to make a change, we begin to question what we are trying to do and the probability of success in making a difference.

Leonardo da Vinci said it best when he said, “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

Some of the typical barriers we run into when thinking about making a change are:

  • We amplify typical/normal worries with comments like “This is probably our last shot to make it work.” “If we mess this up, there is no recovery.”
  • We work through a series of questions in our mind like “What will they think?” and “What will I tell them?”
  • We prepare ourselves for lower expectations with thoughts like “It probably won’t work anyway.” “It doesn’t really matter.” 

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we all need a steady flow of reinforcement to effectively address the typical barriers to making ongoing progress in reaching our full potential and being our best for those we care about most.

Here are a few reminders to help overcome the typical resistance to keep moving forward:

  • Fear: We need courage to face the truth that below these typical barriers is our own fear. Fear of failing, fear of what others will think, or fear of disappointing someone is often part of our thought pattern. Fear is a reality that most of us face, but in the long run, it is not a healthy driver of our decisions on the journey to reach our full potential. The alternative is hope. Hope creates some positive momentum based on the fact that we have overcome challenges before and can build a bit more confidence to go forward.
  • Opinions: We need to acknowledge that somewhere inside of us, we do care about the opinions of others. It is not an effective strategy to say we just don’t care about what others think. The reality is we do care. The greatest desire after taking care of our basic necessities of life is that we all want to feel a connection with others and that we belong. We just need to put the opinions of others in proper context with a reminder that principles like courage, commitment, and loyalty are driving our desire to take action.
  • Choice: The choice is always ours to make. As opposed to letting these typical barriers become STOP signs to making a change, we should leverage them to refine our thinking and clarify our intentions. This step will help us strengthen the decision we are making and solidify our resolve to move forward with the change no matter what we face.

As we develop the habits to more effectively address these typical areas of resistance to change, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and be our best for those we care about most.

A beautiful woman with long blond hair sitting at a table in a restaurant, drinking a cup of coffee in a white mug. She is a young adult, in her 20s, fashionably dressed, looking away with a serious expression, chin resting on her hand.

One Additional Important Chapter – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, February 21, 2019

During last few blogs we shared some steps to address the important chapters in our life like how we effectively handle our past and what we can do to maximize our impact in the present. As we look to be our best for those we care about most, there is one additional chapter we need to mention; The additional chapter is our Future.

As was famously described by the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.” In a more direct fashion, the Book of Proverbs describes, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be intentional about describing a clear view of our desired future in order to channel our efforts in a most purposeful and effective manner.  

Developing a long-term view of our lives is not a five-minute exercise on a Monday morning or a minor commitment after hearing some motivational pump-up speech. When we think about reflecting on the impact we desire in the home, workplace, and community, it takes some time to fully develop a clear picture of our future and the legacy we wish to leave this world. There are plenty of tools and techniques to do this type of reflective work and the important thing is to find a process that works for us as individuals and then get after pulling it together.  

There are some major benefits to thinking through the long-term goals of our life and the legacy we are working to establish. Here are just a view:

  1. We begin to crystalize a sense of purpose for our life. There is a great deal of evidence to support the fact that when we can define a clear purpose, we have a greater chance of overcoming obstacles, dealing with the inevitable setbacks in life, and we build the resilience necessary to see our plans through to completion.
  2. We channel our energy more efficiently in the near-term. Nothing can burn more energy than wandering aimlessly searching for direction. With a clear view of our desired future, we march forward in an efficient fashion to achieve the future we desire. We need all the energy we can muster to reach our full potential in this world, so avoiding an inefficient drain on energy is critical.
  3. We set a strong example for those around us. The people we care about most will get a solid sense of what we stand for and where we are headed by the consistent behavior we exhibit as we work towards the future we desire. Our example can be the spark to ignite the fire within someone else to reach their full potential. 

Given the typical transitions in life we all encounter, a helpful discipline is to periodically revisit our view of the future to ensure the practical, near-term side of our life experience has not driven a potential change in the long-term goals for our life. 

As we embrace the freedom of determining our view of the future we desire, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most at home, work, and in the community.

An Important Chapter – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, February 14, 2019

In last week’s blog, we took some steps to manage our energy level and maximize our impact in our present situation. As we look to reach our full potential in the present, there is an important chapter we should not overlook in order to be our best. The important chapter is our past.

The most effective coffee shop and kitchen table counselors along with world renown academic psychologists would all come to the same conclusion that experiences in our past have a profound impact in shaping our present point of view and subconsciously guiding our actions in the present.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to process our past in a healthy understanding way in order to be our best for those we care about most.

All of us have some unresolved issues in the past from relationships that did not end well or experiences that range from bothersome to traumatic. No one escapes childhood/adolescence unscathed and our decisions as young adults begin to cement our past experiences into the guardrails that frame our point of view as we continue in life.

In looking to build and sustain healthy relationships in the present, we need to acknowledge the truth that we bring more to the table than the issues in the present. Here are a few practical steps to address our past in a healthy and productive way to ensure we can be the best version of ourselves in the present:

  1. Be Reflective: We need to take time to dig deep and thoroughly reflect on our past. This is not a one-time, five-minute moment of reflection. Chances are that we need to consistently reflect on past events in our childhood and our young adult journey to fully appreciate how those experiences are shaping our current beliefs and behaviors. Understanding the dominant emotions in our home as a child and our school/community experience will help us gain some insight on our past.
  2. Find Healing: For some reason, most of us prefer to bear our past burdens and struggles alone and in silence. We all need some help and deserve some support to process our past in a healthy healing way. Finding a trusted friend or family member, support group or counselor could be what is needed. Also, simply journaling about our past has been proven to be a great step in healing from some difficult situations.
  3. Learn and Grow: Since there is no “do-over” in life, we need to move forward no matter how heavy our backpack is from our past. The most effective way to view our past is to learn and grow from the experiences. An unhealthy way to view our past is as a constant reminder of our weaknesses and confirmation of our limitations. We should work hard to choose to learn and grow vs. finding another reason to believe we are not good enough. It is our choice on how we view our past and it is one of the most important choices we can make to reach our full potential in the present.

As we take the necessary steps to address our past in a healthy way, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most at home, work, and in the community.