A Quick Fix – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, December 6, 2018

If we are honest with ourselves, we all desire a quick fix to what ails us.  There must be a simple pill, an “easy” button, or a conference we can attend to pump us up enough to address our greatest challenges immediately with a few simple steps. And if that does not work, lottery winnings can ensure that plenty of money will take care of everything.

We all know the odds of winning the lottery are very slim, but the potential for a massive quick fix always taps into a deep yearning within all of us.  With regards to money and the quick fix, I think Sigmund Freud said it best when he described that given a choice between treating rich or poor patients, he would always choose rich because they already know that money will not solve their most difficult problems.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to genuinely confront the areas in our lives where we are still silently waiting for a quick fix to our challenges. Just like winning the lottery, the odds are stacked against us, so the most effective choice is to plan and prepare to make steady progress in the right direction to address our most challenging struggles…and start working the plan.

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

Once we move beyond the myth of the quick fix, we can begin to make progress in addressing our most difficult problems.  The consistent, daily implementation of effective habits, not an intervention of the next “great” idea, is the only proven method for addressing our greatest struggles in life.

Here are a few thoughts on the habits we can make part of our routine:

  1. Do we care enough to solve this one? This is a helpful question to ask as solving our most difficult problems will take effort and focus every single day.  We can’t do everything, so answering this question will help narrow our efforts to what matters most in life.
  2. Do we know what it looks like in the end? Clearly being able to see what the goal is will help keep us remain on a consistent path.  The clearer we have the goal defined, the better our chances of achievement.
  3. Do we believe we can achieve it? It will be incredibly difficult to effectively address our struggles if we don’t genuinely believe they can be solved.  Start to believe now.
  4. Principle-based habits. We should guide our thoughts, decisions and actions based on principles like honesty, commitment, compassion, and hope as we go about our daily activities to address our most difficult problems.
  5. The journey to address our greatest struggles is a life-long pursuit. Our focus should be on learning and growing as we journey along which will set a solid example for others to follow.

As we walk away from the myth of the quick fix and become intentional about delivering on the habits that will lead to effectively addressing our most difficult problems, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential.

Walking through the Valley – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 29, 2018

“Yes – This is exactly what I need to do…I can do this!” We have all been there at some point. We start out with a great deal of energy and excitement as we head into our journey towards that next big objective in our lives.

Many times, we encounter some catalyst for change brought on by a meaningful event in our lives: A significant change in our personal life, the insightful guidance from a friend or family member, the ideas of a great speaker, or some helpful concept we read in a book or on social media. Some situation triggered our response to get motivated, to take on that next challenge, and go after another well intentioned goal. We take off from that mountain top “high” with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism about reaching our objective.

After traveling along into our journey, we eventually find ourselves off the mountain top experience and into the valley. The valley we encounter between that initial high and the journey towards our objective is often difficult. The ability to clearly see our ultimate objective gets more challenging and somehow the journey does not seem as exciting as when we set off from the mountain top.

As we continue to work on building and strengthening our character, how we manage our mindset (or the voice inside our head) becomes a critical choice we need to make as we walk in that dark and often lonely valley.

We can all probably relate to a few “valley” moments in our lives:

  • After some time of progress on our new diet and exercise routine, things slow down and we notice a few pounds creeping back on the scale
  • After some time in a new job, when our coworkers and boss don’t seem as supportive as they did at the start and the work is no longer exciting
  • When that “sweet bundle of joy” we brought home from the hospital becomes an angry and rebellious young adult
  • When the “I do” in marriage becomes “when you know what freezes over”
  • When our poor choice brings about an unfortunate outcome and there is no hiding from the consequence

On a much lighter note, but still a meaningful, teaching moment about the valleys of life, is the new puppy in our home. After a few weeks with a cute puppy running around in the yard and plenty of time and people around the Thanksgiving holiday to share the workload are suddenly replaced with a winter blizzard, post-holiday busy schedules, and that familiar nighttime question, “Ok, whose turn is it to take the dog out?”, you can find yourself wandering around in the dark a few too many times.

We could all come up with a good laundry list of excuses when we are struggling in the valley and some of them are completely legitimate. Storms do come in life and destroy much of what we tried to build. Tragedy does strike. People do fail to keep up their end of the contract. However, for most of our journey, the consistent application of timeless and universal principles like faith, perseverance, commitment, and hope will rarely cause us to fall short of crossing through the dark valley and reaching the next mountain top high in our journey.

Here are a few ideas to help us move through the valley as best as possible and up to the next mountain top:

  1. Set priorities. We cannot do everything. It is important to be selective and declare a clear “yes” or a clear “no” or at least “not now” so our energy can be channeled into a few important goals.
  2. Plan and prepare. “Winging it” or “going with the flow” seems to only work for cool people. For the rest of us, winging it is often a losing strategy. We need to be intentional about outlining the direction we wish to go and the habits we need to instill to ensure we keep heading in that direction. Our daily habits, especially the voice we listen to in our head, will help keep us on our intended direction even in the darkness of the valley.
  3. Build hope through the momentum of habits. The mechanical process of day in, day out living by our chosen habits builds momentum. When our habits are guided by principles like perseverance, commitment, and loyalty, we build hope through the positive momentum of moving forward for another day through the valley.

As we work our way across a few valleys in our life with the help of sticking to habits based on principles, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach that next mountain top milestone in our journey.

A Reason to be Grateful – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 22, 2018

Even though our world continues to grow in complexity and uncertainty, it is still an amazing blessing that many of us have the opportunity at some point today to pause and celebrate Thanksgiving in America.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, there is no hiding the fact that we still face big challenges in building a strong family, succeeding in building a career in a hyper-competitive global marketplace, and keeping our communities safe.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, one of the most well-proven enablers to successfully face adversity and overcome challenges is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. The simple act of “counting our blessings” has been proven effective to maintain our resilience and perseverance to overcome obstacles. The “proof” has been demonstrated in the stuffy halls of academia, our own real-world experience, and with psychologists and advisors all over the world. Thanksgiving is a great day to remind all of us of the power of the simple act of counting our blessings.

Several months ago, our family started “A Reason to be grateful…” jar that stays on our kitchen table. At least once a day, and sometimes several times a day, one of us will take a moment and write down a “a reason to be grateful” and toss it in the jar. As the weeks and months have passed, just physically seeing the rising stack of reasons has helped to create a slightly more positive atmosphere around the kitchen table.

The jar does not provide a remedy to the challenges we face, but it is a small, physical reminder each day that despite our challenges, we have a large and growing stack of reasons to be grateful as we continue to face the reality of our world.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, our time is probably filled with a bit of traveling, cooking & eating, crowds, and maybe a good football game. From our family to yours, please consider starting a journal or a jar to stack up some reasons to be grateful as I am confident it will help your family as it has helped ours.

As we become intentional about reflecting daily on the many blessings in our lives, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to overcome difficult challenges and set a positive example for those we care about most.

A Worthy Timeline – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 15, 2018

The clock seems to be ticking all around us. We have a time schedule to keep in order to catch the train, to complete a project by the deadline, to graduate on time, to finish that much needed project around the house, and the list could go on.

If we are not very thoughtful and intentional about the schedules we keep and projects we place on our plate, we can end up just running, or just living, from one timeline after another.

As we continue on the journey to build and strengthen our character, there is a worthy timeline that often goes undetected but can make all the difference in our ability to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

We all experience frustration and disappointment in our lives. Discontent is often the first step in bringing about change and creating something of value. Academic research and our own experience would demonstrate that we only move in the direction of making meaningful change when we are absolutely fed up with our current situation.

A worthy timeline that often goes unchecked is the time between our initial sense that change needs to happen and the time we actually begin to make meaningful progress to bring about the change. In reality, sometimes that timeline can go on forever on the most meaningful things in our lives.

The time we realize we need to continue our education, formally or informally, to remain relevant in today’s job market. The time we realize our family life is revolving around schedules and it has been a long time since we had a meaningful connection. The time we realize our waistline is growing at an unhealthy pace. The time we realize we need to get our household budget under control. The time we realize our anger has dampened the joy in our home.

The time we realize we need to make a change and when we actual starting making progress towards the desired change is a timeline worthy of our attention.

When the gap in time gets too long, we move quickly from the ranks of those with high self-awareness and a focus on reaching our potential to the ranks of mostly complainers, blamers, and excuse makers. When the timeline gets too long, eventually those around us realize we really don’t care enough to change, and our relationships begin to falter. Soon, we are on a short timeline to becoming irrelevant and losing our ability to have a positive impact on those around us.

We need to be careful that the old Credence Clearwater Revival song about “someday never comes” does not become an anthem for some of the most needed changes in our lives.

As we realize the need for change in our lives and we efficiently start making progress in an effective direction, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #6) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 8, 2018

The influence we cast in the near term becomes our legacy in the long term. We all have influence on those closest to us. The writings over the last few weeks have focused on some key principles on the pathway to having a positive influence on others.

Here is a brief summary of the prior weeks:

Part # 1 Intent: We need our intent to be aligned with a desire to help others and not focused on our own self-interest.

Open Communication: Part #2 & #3 enable a door to be opened for more effective communication.
Part #2 Listen: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding.
Part #3 Empathy: We need to build our empathy to better understand one another and try to “walk in their shoes,” see experiences from their lens, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel.

Create Connection: Part #4 & #5 create more effective personal connection with others.
Part #4 Common Experience: We all can find some areas of common experience with others. Sharing those experiences and the emotions that accompany them can create a strong personal connection with others.
Part #5 Common Learnings: Imparting wisdom based on learnings across some of our common life experiences is at the heart of positive influence and has its greatest opportunity to impact the lives of others.

Part#6
As we look to close out these writings on the pathway to positive influence, the one principle-based action that is woven throughout the pathway from start to finish is to Serve & Give; To serve others, not ourselves and to give ourselves to a cause greater than us continually strengthens the bond of relationships that are vital to a healthy, fulfilling life.

When we consistently act in the service of others and give our talents and energies to a cause greater than ourselves we set an encouraging example for others to follow. The quiet servant, far from the headlines, focused on consistently moving the cause forward through the dark uncertain valleys will more times than not, cast a positive influence on those around them.

All of those with incredible intelligence, those with a loud voice, and those well-polished speakers eventually lose their luster through time and distance, but those who remain steadfast to serve and give leave a legacy of positive impact that we would all cherish.

It is important that we acknowledge the truth that close relationships are not easy. Life is complicated and often messy. Our ability to have a positive influence throughout life’s ups and downs can be most assured when we aim to serve and give. Below are some universal truths around the importance of serving and giving:

  1. Life is hard and we could all use some help (help in tough times and help to push us to reach our full potential). By serving others we can be best positioned to help those in need who often may be hesitant to admit and accept some assistance.
  2. It is a greater blessing to give than receive. When we focus on giving to a cause greater than ourselves, we realize the true joy of giving.
  3. We find our purpose, meaning, and lasting joy when we look to serve and give to others as opposed to continually searching for our own happiness.

When we can consistently serve and give, we foster strong relationships over time which helps us to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #5) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 1, 2018

We all have influence on those closest to us. Our influence, in many ways, translates into our legacy. The writings over the last few weeks have focused on some key principles on the pathway to having a positive influence on others.

Here is a brief summary of the prior weeks:

Part # 1 Intent: We need our intent to be aligned with a desire to help others and not focused on our own self-interest.

Open Communication: Part #2 & #3 enable a door to be opened for more effective communication.

Part #2 Listen: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding.

Part #3 Empathy: We need to build our empathy to better understand one another and try to “walk in their shoes,” see experiences from their lens, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel.

Create Connection: Part #4 & #5 create more effective personal connection with others.

Part #4 Common Experience: We all can find some areas of common experience with others. Sharing those experiences and the emotions that accompany them can create a strong personal connection with others.

It has been said that “experience is the mother of all learning.” How we use our experiences to learn and grow will determine our future potential. As we develop the 5th step along the pathway of positive influence, we have the opportunity to create a greater connection with others by sharing our learnings from some common experiences that we have encountered in our journey.

Wisdom comes with time, experience, and most importantly through intentional reflection to discover some learnings from our life’s journey. Imparting wisdom based on learnings across some of our common life experiences is at the heart of positive influence.

The passing on of wisdom from generation to generation (wise old folks to the young and naïve) and from the learned journeyman to those who do not currently possess the mental or emotional capacity to learn and grow (i.e. “This is just the way I am” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, “This is the way I was raised” etc.) is where the pathway to positive influence has its greatest opportunity to impact the lives of others.

Effectively sharing learnings (imparting wisdom) is a two-way street. There needs to be a willing teacher and a willing student. Below are a few additional thoughts to help share learnings and move forward along the pathway to having a positive influence on others:

  • Growth vs Limitations: There is a clear difference among people in the area of learning from experience. Some of us view past experiences as opportunities to learn and grow while others of us use past experiences to reinforce some perceived limitation and shortcoming. The truth is that we reach our full potential when we view past experiences as opportunities to learn and grow. It may take some time for a “student” to acknowledge and accept that truth. Be Patient.
  • Seeds of Wisdom: Learnings are best shared and received over time in bite sized chunks as opposed to a massive flood all at once. The pathway to positive influence is a long journey and there are no short-cuts or an Easy Pass to accelerate the process. Planting seeds and adhering to the truth contained in the law of the harvest that it will take time, intention, effort, and faith to reap an abundant harvest, or in this case, a legacy of positive influence on those we care about most is an important reality to accept. Be Thoughtful.
  • Remember the Past: As we share learnings, taking time to consistently reinforce to others their prior experiences of overcoming, persevering, and moments of joy can be an encouragement to open the heart of a “student” and be an enabler for additional learning and growth. Be Reflective.

When we thoughtfully and humbly share learnings from some common experiences, we create greater personal connection to others and we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #4) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, October 25, 2018

Whether we care to recognize it or not, we all have influence on those closest to us. The writings over the last few weeks have focused on some key principles on the pathway to having a positive influence on others.

Here is a brief summary of the prior weeks:
Part # 1 Intent: We need our intent to be aligned with a desire to help, to serve, and to give to others.
Part #2 Listen: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding.
Part #3 Empathy: We need to build our empathy to better understand one another and try to “walk in their shoes,” see experiences from their lens, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel.

We all share some common experiences in our journey of life. Many times, we share similar emotions through life’s experience of failure and success, fear and worry during difficult experiences, and moments of joy and peace during uplifting experiences. As we develop the 4th step along the pathway of positive influence, the opportunity to connect closely with someone based on common experiences and shared emotions opens a door to have a positive influence on others.

There is often no greater connection that can be made with someone than sharing a common experience and the emotions that accompany it. Those who fear public speaking can readily connect to someone nervously getting ready to stand in front of a crowd. Those who may have had a most difficult journey through adolescence can readily connect with a teenager experiencing feelings of loneliness, isolation, and rejection. Those who have endured the pain and sadness of the breakup of a family are in a good position to relate to someone walking alone out of a broken relationship.

Discovering some common experiences and shared emotions is often helpful to build a connection to someone and create a receptive heart for influence. Those who have endured a specific experience are very often the most helpful to relate to the needs of those dealing with a similar experience.

Below are a few additional thoughts to encourage all of us to look for common experiences and the shared emotions around those experiences in order to move forward along the pathway to having a positive influence on others:

  1. Be intentional about identifying common emotions like fear, worry, joy, and sadness while listening to others. Sharing experiences linked to these emotions can create a door opener for a deeper connection.
  2. We all tend to feel alone in periods of suffering and enduring hardship. Being open and sharing a common struggle can often help open the door for someone to ask for help and be receptive to the positive influence of others.
  3. Offering our own experiences and emotions in areas that are typically shamed or kept quiet in our guarded world may help give others the courage to more openly share their struggles and seek help.

When we look for opportunities to connect closer with others through common experiences and the emotions that surround those experiences, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #3) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, October 18, 2018

As we continue another writing on influence, one important reminder is that whether we care to admit it or not, we all have influence on those closest to us. Our influence may have a positive or negative impact, or it simply maybe dismissed through apathy or pre-judgment by the receiver.

Here is a quick summary of the past few writings on the pathway to positive influence:
Part # 1 Intent: Our intent is aligned with a desire to help, to serve, and to give to others. We can effectively open the door to be a positive influence on others when we realize our efforts are not about “me” and my own personal gain, but they are about helping you.
Part #2 Listening: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding. We don’t need to be brilliant to listen, we just need to care. Simply put down the screen and listen.

In part #3 of this message, we focus on the importance of empathy and trying to “walk in the shoes” of another in order to have a positive influence. Empathy is about seeing experiences from the lens of others, understanding their perspective, and feeling what they feel.

We all don’t see the world as it is, we see the world from our own unique perspective.

If I were to ask you what the American flag means to you, I would hear a multitude of responses. They would all be responses based on your lens of experience, not mine. Empathy helps me understand your response a little better.

If I were to ask you about the rising rates, across all age groups, of mental illness in our country, I would hear a multitude of responses and a different perspective from:

  • Those who personally struggle with depression, anxiety, etc.
  • Sons and daughters who had a parent struggle with mental health and perhaps covered it with alcohol or drugs.
  • Parents who struggled to help a child walk through depression.
  • Children who lost a parent to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Adult children caring for a parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Those who have not been directly and personally impacted by mental illness.

Empathy helps me expand my ability to see what you see, understand you better, and feel what you feel.

Below are a few additional thoughts to encourage all of us to focus on empathy as an important step along the pathway to having a positive influence on others:

  1. After ensuring our physical survival, a great human need is to be understood, validated, and accepted for who we are today. Empathy helps us open the door to meet this need of those around us.
  2. Instead of projecting our own story on others and making assumptions and interpretations about others, empathy helps us get into the heart and soul of those around us.
  3. Empathy is very difficult to achieve over a text message. Empathy is most embraced when we listen not just with our ears but focus our eyes, heart, and physical presence with another.

When we start with our intent to help, listen to others, and focus on empathy, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #2) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, October 11, 2018

As we mentioned last week, whether we care to admit it or not, we all have influence on those closest to us. Our influence may have a positive or negative impact, or it simply maybe dismissed through apathy or pre-judgment by the receiver.

Part # 1 on this message was a reminder that the pathway to positive influence begins when our intent is aligned with a desire to help, to serve, and to give to others. We can effectively open the door to be a positive influence on others when we realize our efforts are not about “me” and my own personal gain.

In part #2 of this message, we focus on the importance of listening instead of talking as the next step in having a positive influence on others. Listening goes against the popular opinion that we need to be up front and on stage with our intelligence and experience in order to have influence.

The reality is much different than the popular public perception of influence. We need to initially focus on listening instead of talking to most effectively move forward in having a positive influence on others.

Below are a few additional thoughts to encourage all of us to be more effective on listening as a second step along the pathway to having a positive influence on others:

  1. No effective response needed. Many of us hinder our ability to effectively listen because we have been conditioned that in order to have a positive impact on others we need to know what to say in conversation with others. Even though it may sound counterintuitive, we need all our energy focused on listening with the hope to understand instead of listening with a desire to respond with something “brilliant.” If we don’t initially focus on listening, our “brilliant” response will most often fall on deaf ears.
  2. Ask additional questions in follow-up. Using some thoughtful questions followed by silence will help to encourage others to keep sharing. Asking a follow-up question and simply shutting up is often difficult for us but allowing silence to hang after a question will open the door for others to fill the gap and continue to share. Even something as simple as, “Please tell me a little more about that experience” can keep the discussion going.
  3. Focus on him/her, not everything else in “my” world. In today’s massively distracted world, keeping smart phones, laptops, etc. out of site will help send a message that the focus is on them and not anything else. We send a huge billboard sized message that says, “You are not that important to me” when we show up to listen and we are constantly “stepping out” of conversation with the casual glance at notifications on our phones. Our ability to positively influence others will be severely limited when we allow simple distractions to creep into our attempt to listen to others.
  4. We don’t need to be brilliant to listen, we just need to care. Listening, not talking, is the most simple and powerful way to demonstrate to someone that they matter and to meet a human desire to be accepted for who we are today. Listening is the gateway for truth in a conversation and can encourage others, at least for a moment, to take off our mask and end the “costume party” we all typically live in.

When we start with our intent to help and then begin to listen to others, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #1) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, October 4, 2018

Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have influence on those closest to us. Our influence may have a positive or negative impact, or it simply maybe dismissed through apathy or pre-judgment by the receiver.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in order to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us, it is important that we learn and follow a well-established, principle-based, pathway for positive influence.

In our public world where the loud and proud get most of the attention, this process may seem out of touch with the present reality. However, when we chronicle the archives of history both in the home and in the public square, we will come to appreciate these steps as the most effective pathway to long term, sustained positive influence on the lives of others, especially those we care about most.

Over the next few weeks, we will journey together on a road less traveled in today’s public forums and look closely on the pathway to positive influence on those we care about most.

The first step in any major effort to have influence is to examine our intent. When we look at the opportunity to have influence on others, what is our intent?

Do we strive to influence others for our own personal gain, credit, or some hidden agenda? Is our desire to influence from a pure selfish motive?

Or

Do we strive to influence others based on a desire to help where we see a need? Do we simply want to help fill a gap in knowledge or skills created by youth, inexperience, or lack of awareness or resources? Do we simply care and want to help?

Examining our intent is the foundational first step on the pathway to positive influence.

The pathway to positive influence begins with our intent being aligned with a desire to help, to serve, and to give to others. We have come to humble realization that life is often difficult and we all need some help along the way.

There are no “self-made” men and woman. We don’t live alone on an island. We have all received some help along the way. Whether it was some encouragement in our home, a positive role model on the field of play, a friend or mentor’s advice, a stranger’s kind offering, or a teacher from our past, we all have received some help. Those who desire to have a positive influence on others recognize that we all need some help along the way.

When we start with our intent being grounded in a desire to help, serve and give to others, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.