This may sound like a rather silly question. I hear lots of you saying “I’m Bob, I’m Mary”. No, that is your name. I am talking about your identity. Who we are is how we define ourselves. So I ask you again, who are you? Notice what is the first thing that comes to your mind? For a lot of us, it is our occupation. We may not realize it, but we often identify ourselves by where we work or what kind of work we do. Especially if we have done that job for a while. I learned this the hard way. After giving the postal service 15 great years, I was faced with the real prospect of losing my position for nothing more than office politics. Suddenly I felt like, “Now what? What will happen to me?” Those feelings of fear were because after so many years I identified myself as ‘Neil the postal worker’. Lucky for me I had a few friends I could talk to who knew me before I worked for the postal service. I had to ask Jason, Jenny, and Russ, my good friends, what was I like 16 years ago before the I started working there. After a few jokes about stress levels I came to realize there was a Neil before the United States Postal Service and there will be one after as well. Here we are a few years later and I find myself in the same situation. What is different now is I realize I am not my occupation. So who am I? More importantly, who are you? We are who we choose to define ourselves to be. I heard something recently that may help to show the example I am trying to get at. “There is a great difference between doing something stupid, feeling stupid, and being stupid” We have all done something stupid in our lives. Some more than others. We have all felt stupid at times. When we say we are stupid, that creates a whole different mentality. If you say you are stupid, or overweight, or lazy, whatever term you use it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m really good at this for saying “I am a procrastinator”. Now if I hold that as a belief or even more so as a conviction, my actions will have to be in line with that identity. So really think how you define yourself. Take a moment to write a few beliefs about yourself that you hold. See which ones serve you and which do not. If you are like me and have one or two that may be holding you back it is time to switch them up. Write down the person you wish to become. Carry it with you and read it throughout the day. At first it may seem like you are lying to yourself especially if it is the opposite of what you currently believe to be true of yourself. Stick with it. You didn’t develop the beliefs you have about yourself overnight and you are not going to change them overnight either. So let us all redefine ourselves and become the people we desire to be!
Here is an interesting metaphor I learned recently that I would like to share with you. I am always on the lookout for symbols that can serve to remind me of my goal of living the most amazing life I can. I like coffee. Ok that last statement could be a slight understatement. Frequently I find myself at Starbucks either working on my book or even composing some of these posts. Now before I get to my next point I have to address the voice of my good friend Kim in the back of my head saying “I don’t drink coffee”. Trust me this could work just as well with a diet Coke. Next time you get a cup of coffee, or whatever it is you care to consume, think of it as your mind. Now while waiting in line at the coffee shop I have heard some VERY specific things people like, and do not like in their coffee. Funny thing is these same people are not nearly as careful as to what they put in their minds. We must be diligent as to what we let in and keep out of our thoughts on a daily basis. If we happen to leave this up to chance what will we be greeted with? I can only share this with you. I watched the news to try to catch the weather a few nights ago. What I saw will seem like an exaggeration, but it was the honest truth. In the first 5 minutes of the news I heard of 3 homicides and 2 house fires, one that took the life of a young woman. Never did make it to the weather. It is not only the media we have to look out for, even some of our closest friends and family. Sounds pretty mean at first blush, but let me explain it using the coffee method. If a complete stranger walks up and puts some poison in your coffee what will happen? Answer, you will die. Now let’s say your closest friend, even on accident spills some of that same poison in your coffee what will happen? Same result, you will die. Now this may sound extreme, but that is exactly what negative thoughts are to a healthy mind, poison. How many times have you had lunch with a friend who happened to be having a bad day and proceeded to tell you how bad the government is, how the economy is on the verge of collapse and other such inspiring thoughts. You may very well end up leaving lunch at the very least a little less inspired. The flip side of this is we must not poison anyone else’s coffee. Before you start venting all of your negative beliefs on your friends, family or co-workers, look them in the eye and ask yourself “would I want to poison this person?” because that is what you are doing to their mind. So when you get your next latte from Starbucks, or your next diet Coke from the vending machine, stop and think about what you would let somebody put in there. Let it serve as a great reminder to watch your own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Watch your own coffee.
At first glance this may seem like a paradox. After all, how can negative thinking be anything but…well negative? Let’s face it, positive thinking can empower us to do a lot of things. Being positive minded 100% of the time is not only unrealistic, but not very healthy for growth either. I would say a good healthy mix is 95/5. So why are negative feelings so ‘good’ for us. They can serve to vital and very important purposes. First, they let us know what is not working. There is something in our life that is currently not meeting our standards. Why is this important? Let me explain it with a situation we can all relate to, going to the doctor. Why do you go to the doctor? The answer usually is “because something is wrong”. Noticing this means you have had bad physical feelings. Whether they are nausea, pain, or some other not so pleasant feeling it let you know something is not as it should be. If you are anything like me the very next question to the doctor is “How can we make this go away?”. That leads us to the second great thing negative feelings can do for us. They can motivate us into action. In the case of the doctor visit, to do what actions are necessary to heal our condition. The same holds true for any condition in life. If we notice something in our life is causing us a noticeable amount of grief, get excited! Excited about grief Neil? Are you crazy? Well, yes I am crazy, but here is why you should get excited. Our bodies are designed to use feelings as warning signs. Such as pain so you don’t leave your hand on the hot stove, or nausea so you don’t keep drinking the expired milk. These may seem like a pain at first, after all who likes to burn their hand? Yet if we didn’t have the pain we could leave our hand on the stove until it cooks right off. Interesting thing is our minds do the same thing. Ever wonder why certain things make you feel sad or angry. That is our mind and spirits way of telling us something is wrong with them. It is a warning sign, just like the burn on the hand. We must decide what is causing this upset and act to correct it. Now here is where negative emotions can be a double edge sword. When trying to discover what would work to eliminate our discomfort we must think in a positive, solution oriented frame of mind. For example, I had a friend who had recently given her all into a relationship that she felt had true potential, but when push came to shove the man she was in a relationship with did not feel the same. I heard her utter phrases like “I’m never going to get into a relationship again, that way I won’t get hurt again” Haven’t we all felt this way at one point or another? I know I have. In this situation she was willing to sacrifice all the pleasure a healthy relationship could provide her to escape the pain of another possible unhealthy one. This may seem like a solution on the surface, but what it really amounts to is giving up. If there is one thing you don’t want to give up on it is your own life. So make negative emotions our servants, not our masters. Let us use them for clarity and motivation, but not dwell in them. So next time you find yourself upset, remember the positive power of negative thinking!
In yesterday’s post we spoke of vision. Why is it important? How do we develop it? Why bother? Let us tackle the first question, ‘Why is it important?’ I can best describe this by using a story I heard about two different ships. On the first one, we pick a destination, map out a course fill it with a capable crew and an outstanding captain. Now, keeping the destination in front of them nine times out of ten it will get where it sets out to go. True that along the way the map might need to be adjusted and the crew may need to be replaced, but it will arrive where it was destined to. Now let us take a second boat, but on this book we will not say where it is going, we will not give them a map. There will be new crew and therefore no need of a captain. We will just fire up the engine and let it go. How far out of the dock do you think that ship will go? Where will it end up? This may seem like an extreme example, but ask ten people where there goal is to end up in 5 years, 10 years or even 20. Then ask then what their plan is for getting to that destination. Very few will have a concrete, worthwhile goal in mind and even less will have a plan to get there. There is another, more fun reason to do this. Rewards. How, if we don’t know where we are going do we know if we are getting any closer? Where is the opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done? Where is the motivation? Where indeed.
So if this vision is so important, how do we develop one? Well they come in many definitions. Companies call them mission statements. Some people call them goals. I prefer to just say “Discover your passion and then chase it with all your might”. If you are chasing a goal you are really passionate about two things happen. One, it seems more like an adventure then work. Who doesn’t like a good adventure? We pay good money to read about them in books and to watch them on the silver screen. The second thing is obstacles naturally turn into challenges. We will not anything stop us! So start your adventure now. Write down your destination. Begin to map it out and select your crew to assist you along the way.
We have all heard the story a million times. An ordinary person rises from the ashes to become a hero, saving the day. It happens almost daily in sports. We’ve seen it in the movies. We have read about it in classic literature. How are these people different from us and what secret weapon do they use? First the good news, these people are fundamentally no different from you and I. I say fundamentally because is essence we are all the same, human. Now it is understood that some people have certain obstacles and some people have certain advantages. That was discussed in an earlier post. For the most part however, we basically all start out the same. Ok, so if we are all the same how come some people rise so above the crowd and some just trudge through life on a daily basis? Here is the secret. The heroes among us have two traits that the ‘average’ person does not have, vision and faith. Now I want you to take a moment and a really think about those two words. We will approach them separately in the days to come, but for now just think about them. Vision, we must know where we are going and the end result we are aiming for. This can be amended as we grow as individuals, but we must have an aiming point to begin. persistance, as Earl Nightengale once said, is just another word for faith. If we didn’t have faith we wouldn’t persist. It is the absolute knowing you are going to arrive where you set your mind to be. So what about all those times you have set a goal, tried and failed miserably? Truth is the only true failure is giving up. If you have faith and suddenly you are confronted with what appears to be a let down, you will know it is either a lesson to be learned or an opportunity to grow stronger. The best way to describe this would be the stories of two people I consider heroes.
First, my friend Shannon started an online group of people she wished to share her journey towards a healthier lifestyle with. At first it seemed only she and a few select others would have anything to offer to the group. Although a bit dismayed, Shannon’s passion and commitment to share what she learned persevered. Slowly, but surely people began to comment, ask questions and share their experiences. Personally I have received meal ideas, work out tips and even a few new friends through this group. In fact, as of the creation of this post I cannot go a day without interacting with someone from that group. Shannon’s vision in sharing a healthy lifestyle and all its rewards and challenges with her friends has changed the lives of countless people for the better and made her a hero.
Next there is my friend Cari. She had faced some serious personal challenges. Some of which would cause a lesser person to give up on living a rewarding life. Not this lady. Cari developed a vision of using her struggles to help people going through the same thing. This sounds easy enough, but how many of us really act on it? Cari, with the help of her church, formed a class to mentor people. They announced it, she prepared lessons, and…nobody came. She found herself a little dismayed, but her faith as to the job put on her by her creator made her dust herself off and try again. She began simply talking to people, some of them began approaching her asking for advice. She is currently developing new and amazing ways to inspire and assist people all while still healing her own life. That, my friends, is a hero.
So develop your vision. I don’t care if you are 12 or 112! Decide now what it is you would like to do with your life and begin to develop the passion and faith to make a difference. Truth is, we all have a super hero inside of us. Especially you.
Proof that inspiration can strike you anywhere happened to me today. While I was getting my haircut today the wonderful lady doing the service and I began chatting about all things positive. She brought back a quote I haven’t heard since I was young. “It’s like my mom always said” she exclaimed. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” As she started rinse the shampoo from my head I started thinking. Which is pretty much all you can do while somebody else is washing your hair. That is a piece of wisdom a good many of us have heard from childhood. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, my good friend Jamie taught me to look at things backwards. Not saying anything mean certainly helps the people you are talking to, or about. What does it do for us? I began to meditate on this for a while. Not to intensely as by this time there were sharp instruments near my head. It reminded me of another quote from the Buddha that I particularly enjoy. I am paraphrasing here as I do have the exact quote in front of me. “Anger is like holding a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned” Think about how you feel when you say something about that driver that cut you off. The lazy co-worker whose work you end up doing on top of your own. The in-laws that won’t mind their own business. In all of these cases we have a right to be upset, but while verbally lashing out may help us relieve some anger in the short-term, does it really help us feel better? After leaving the break room while either joining in or sometimes just overhearing a long session of gossip how do you feel? Now let us flip this around. We know what will make us feel terrible, but what about the first part of the motherly quote, saying something nice. Think about how you feel when you tell somebody how nice their spouse is. How does it make you feel when somebody gives you the same compliment. I have a good friend Cari, who is very kind and inspirational to a lot of mutual friends we have. At any given time when the friends are together without her, inevitably her name comes up. The funny thing is 100% of the time we trade stories telling how amazing she is and what joy she has brought to our lives. We all end up leaving feeling a little bit happier inside knowing what an amazing friend we have. Although the compliments are all for Cari and she may never even know they were said (unless of course she reads this post) all of us who said them also receive the gift of joy as well. It is the opposite of the quote from the Buddha. Instead of getting ‘burned by the coal of anger’ we are being ‘blessed with the gift of love and compliments’. So next time you are tempted to join in on some gossip, or curse at the bad driver in front of you. Do what Kelly told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” It will be better for those on the receiving end, but it will also be better for you level of happiness as well. Who knows, it may even make the world a little better of a place.
When talking to people about increasing the joy and passion in their lives I often hear such lines as “If I had more money I would be happy” or “I just was born under a lucky star” or even “You don’t understand all the bad things that I grew up with”. It is no secret some people are born with more resources than others. More money, more education, a large support network, but these can be just as much of an obstacle as a gift. Sometimes being raised in such an environment can be as much of an obstacle as an advantage. How can being born in ‘all the right situations’ be an obstacle you may be thinking. Being raised with things that others do not have often robs us of that drive for a better life. That is not to say all people who are blessed with being born in the right circumstances are lazy, quite the contrary. Circumstances are what we make of them. For those of you shaking your head, let me give you some proof. First, let us flip this story around. What would you predict for a girl born to a 13-year-old single mother? Let’s say that girl after the age of nine is physically, emotionally and even sexual abused from the age of nine? What if that same girl finds herself pregnant at the age of 13 as well? Not looking so good is it? Now let us say this girl leaves her mother to find her father at the age of fourteen and 8 months along, and then shortly after arriving there gives birth to a still-born child. What would be your prediction for this young lady? Well that event could have destroyed, and rightfully so, any fragile teenage soul, but it only served to galvanize this young lady. She applied herself in school remained focused on her goals and while being employed as a journalist was offered her own daytime talk show. You see Oprah Winfrey did not let her circumstances define her. She knew the life she wanted, and when she couldn’t find it, went out and created it. So let’s do ourselves a favor and not cater to our present or past situations. Let us not be defined by events we had little or no control over. Let us be defined by our future, and by what we are yet to become! Let us create our own future, starting today.