THE MAN (OR WOMAN) IN THE MIRROR

This week is all about areas that affect our lives in a major way. Today we are going to talk about the person looking back at us in the mirror. It is time to give them a fresh look. When you see yourself in the mirror, what do you see? More importantly, how did you come to that opinion? If you were asked to describe yourself, what would you say? What if you could change that description? Even change parts of you that you may think could never be changed?

It is amazing when I hear people tell me “I am a procrastinator.” or “I am just not a happy person.” My first question is “Really? When did you decide that?” They will either give me one of those looks people give you when you ask thought provoking questions they do not expect, or I receive answers that include the following, “I didn’t decide, that is just who I am.” “I don’t know I have always been that way.” Sometimes an especially introspective individual will share with me some event from their childhood, or maybe their last relationship that prompted this belief. I listen carefully and calmly tell them, “Actually you did choose to be that way and you did so this morning.” Again, more crazy looks.

Here is the uncomfortable truth a lot of us do not like to consider. We choose daily who we are. If you are a person who is always running late, when could you decide to change that? If you are a person who was hurt by an uncaring person in your last relationship, when can you begin to deal with and heal from those experiences? The answer is right now. Let me assure you, I am not trying to make light of anything you have been through. I know a lot of you have been through very painful experiences. Allowing them to continue to hurt you, or to force you to live your life stunted, not experiencing the fullness of joy and love that is available to you is a choice we must make, consciously or unconsciously, every morning when we wake up. It may take seeking professional help or just reaching a point where you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, but you are the one who must choose who looks back at you in the morning.

Some of us have even allowed others to tell us who we are. Les Brown, one of my favorite authors and motivational speakers was told throughout his childhood he was educable mental retarded. It took an embarrassing moment of having to tell the teacher he was too ‘dumb’ to solve a problem on the chalkboard to change his life. What the teacher told him not only changed his life, but can change ours as well. The teacher walked around the desk, looked right into his eyes and said, “Never let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.” Read that statement a few times. You may even want to print it out and hang it somewhere.

A lot of us were told by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) teachers, parents and others growing up that we were not so good at this, or never will amount to that. I personally recall my senior year in high school my English teacher telling me, “I hope to God you never have a career in writing.” I have a website with about 800 posts and am about to publish my second book. More importantly, I have touched the lives of countless of people and will reach even more in the future. What if I listened to that teacher, and several classmates I might add, what would have happened? I never would have attempted to set up a website. I never would have believed I could write a book let alone more than one. All the lives I have helped? I never would have been able to reach them. Just thinking of that gives me a sadness in my heart.

Here is what I suggest. Take some quality time by yourself and think about who you would wish to be. Write down the ideas you come up with. It is vital you do NOT consider your current situation when coming up with this list. If I had done so back in my senior year, becoming a best-selling author and speaker would have never made the list. When you come up with your list take a good hard look at it. Then, take a look at that person in the mirror. Read this list to yourself every morning when you wake up and every evening before you go to bed.

Next time you reach for that twinkie, think of your list. If ‘I am a healthy vibrant individual’ is on there, you might want to give that a second thought. If you choose to eat that twinkie, remember you have made that decision. If you need help, seek help. Remember you and only you should define the kind of person you wish to be. It is time to take control of the person we see in the mirror. Tomorrow we look at another way in which we can gain leverage on ourselves and help move us in the direction we are wishing to go.

THE ONE THING YOU SHOULD DO FIRST TO CREATE AN AMAZING LIFE

Through the course of my writing here and in my books you will find a wealth of tools to help improve the quality of life. Use any of them and they will increase the level of joy, satisfaction and success you have in your life. There is one thing that will make all of them work even better. It is the most important thing you can do to begin to live a life you not only can be proud of, but enjoy living. It is so important that you should add it to every goal you write down, every New Year’s resolution you have and make it a part of your daily routine.

What could be so important? Before you start wondering if this is something you have ‘time’ to do, let me reassure you that it will take no extra time at all. It will take some extra effort in terms of remembering, but even putting forth this effort will bring a smile to your face. It would not be too over the top to say this would be a matter of life and death. Reason being, when you do this, life comes alive. You have excitement. The little things not only cease to get you down, you can view them in a more positive light.

Here is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do to transform your life positively. Enjoy the journey. That may sound very simple and basic, but it is life altering. How many times have you heard, or even said, “I’ll be happy when…” Roughly 90% of our life is spent on our way from here to there. Even when you achieve the goal you are working towards, you can end up with a feeling of let down if you are not prepared with another.

If we spend 90% of our lives on a journey, we should do our best to find ways to enjoy that journey. A great example is when I began focusing on gratitude. If I chose to wait until I developed a grateful attitude to be happy, I would miss all of the great things I discovered on my journey there. Even when I messed up and began to focus on what I perceived as being ‘wrong’ with my life, I was excited because I knew that is what would eventually fade away.

As well as any tool of self-improvement has worked for me, enjoying the process of using it has been the greatest thing I have learned to do. When you are enjoying the journey of life, challenges become redefined as stepping stones. This may seem like putting on rose-colored glasses, but that is not true. We can seldom control, and then only to a limited degree, what happens in our life. What we have complete control over is what it means to us and how we can use it.

One of the journeys most of us seem to be on is one of becoming more financially comfortable. Instead of saying “I’ll be happy when I can afford a new car.” Which I did utter with the PT cruiser quite a bit, soak in that feeling. Not that you should relish in a bad feeling, but realize that is what it is showing you. Then focus on how great you will feel when your goal is accomplished. About the 832nd time my PT cruiser was at the repair shop (Only a slight exaggeration) I remember thinking how terrible it was to have to take time off of work to spend money so I could get to work. Then I remembered, I was one step closer to getting there. Of course I would loved to not have been there, but it was teaching me patience, allowing me to practice a lot of the tools I write about, preparing me to be grateful for the car I would have, among a million other things.

You may be thinking that is easy for you to do, but not me. It wasn’t in the beginning. Sitting in an auto repair shop watching your Jamaican vacation take the shape of a new muffler, it is hard to discover the joy in that. I managed to, and if a man with seasonal affective disorder can do that in the middle of the Wisconsin winter, so can you. It takes asking yourself new questions. “How can I use this?” “What else could this mean?” Not only asking yourself these questions, but coming up with positive answers. Trust me when I tell you this doesn’t happen overnight so do not get discouraged when the first answer you brain spits back at you is “Nothing! This situation sucks!” Certainly, it may not be your first choice, but what you do with that situation is 100% up to you. If you just sulk and dwell in the negative emotion it first gave you there is nobody to blame but you. This is not an easy change and will take a lot of practice, but enjoying the journey of life will transform your life and make everything else more enjoyable.

If I had one gift to leave this world when I am gone, it would be to help everyone enjoy the journey more. To that end, please not only share your suggestions for doing so in the comments below, but your challenges as well. Let us start a healthy conversation and help each other enjoy the journey we are all a part of, the journey of life.

A SIMPLE BELIEF

This set of beliefs would be great for all of us to adopt. In today’s world with the internet, and modern transportation we are all brothers and sisters. What actions we take can affect others halfway across the globe.

In the same thought, what we do to the earth will affect not only us, but generations to come. The reason we should act as if we are all related is because, at the very core, we are all related. Our actions either heal or destroy. There is no action that does not have a consequence.

Today, more than ever we all touch each others lives. Let us all remember, we are all brothers and sisters.

ONE WORD CAN TRANSFORM ANY RELATIONSHIP

Valentine’s day is coming up and if you are anything like me you find yourself trying to think of the perfect gift. Who doesn’t want to get a gift we know the receiver will just love? It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s day. It can be a birthday or any other special holiday. What if I told you one word can help you find the perfect gift? It doesn’t matter who you are buying the gift for, or what the occasion is. Would you like to know what one word this is?

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of happiness. To do and say things that not only bring joy to spouses, friends, family and coworkers, but quite often truly touch their heart. What if I told you this magic word would allow you to know just the right things to say and do, and perhaps just as important, what things to avoid saying and doing, would you be interested?

How can one word unlock the key to making people happy as well as avoiding making them upset? How can that same one word help us pick out the perfect gift that we will know that they will love? This word can do all that and more! It can also show this person their feelings are important to us. It can show them we pay attention to what they say and we value them as a part of our life.

“Wait a minute Neil! You are telling me one word can do all of this?” Yes it can. I personally use this word daily in all of my relationships. I have to thank Margie. It was a trip to the grocery store that began my use of this powerful word. I was at a local co-op shopping for produce and other such fun things. At the time Margie was at home creating one of those cakes that look so good you cannot believe it is edible. Considering how hard she was working and how much I was loving her, I wanted to bring her home something to surprise her and let her know how much I love her and was thinking about her. Then it hit me, I had no clue what that was. I began to push the shopping cart up and down the aisles one by one. My head was spinning. To be honest, I cannot even remember what I settled on that day.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Both of us were at this same store and I was about to tell her how frustrated I was last time I was here looking for that little surprise for her. (Men if you know something you could bring your lady home from the grocery store that makes her feel loved, you are far ahead of most) Right before the words were going to leave my lips a voice in my head spoke to me. Generally these consist of urging me to do things I shouldn’t like eat another slice of pizza or hit the snooze one more time. This time was different, it was a eureka moment. I discovered the magic word and since then I have used it to not only transform my relationship with my beautiful Margie, but virtually everyone in my life and now you can use it too.

What is this magic word? Before I share it with you, a few words of caution, do not dismiss this word based on its simplicity. I promise if you utilize this word in the way described in this post you too will experience a great increase in the quality of your relationships. The word is LISTEN.

When we say listen we mean active listening. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines active listening as “It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.” Read that definition once more slowly. Read it out loud. You may even wish to write that down somewhere. Active listening is most commonly used in conflict resolution. Can you imagine how much difference your disagreements would be if you used active listening? If we are completely honest, we often listen with the intent of responding and not understanding. This is especially true during a disagreement. As the other party is explaining why they are upset we are already busy in our minds composing our rebuttal or how we can prove their point wrong. Changing that to concentrating, understanding and maybe repeating what they said to make sure it is understood as well as remembering what they said to avoid the disagreement in the future would certainly improve your relationship.

Although helpful, so much so I thought I should include it, this is not about disagreements. Let us go back to that day in the grocery store. Instead of sharing my previous frustration with Margie, I decided to watch and listen to her very carefully that day, making mental notes of items she looked at and what she said she liked and did not like. Yes, this kind of listening requires both your ears and your eyes. Up to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Watching her eyes light up with this product, or wrinkling her nose at that product helped me learn a lot more about the wonderful woman I share my life with. I learned more about Margie in that one grocery shopping trip than I normally learn in a month.

The next time I found myself at that grocery store I gleefully picked out several items (little oatie, peach rose) and was confident they would bring her joy when I returned home. I was correct and it filled me with a sense of confidence and accomplishment. I made the woman I love truly happy. It also showed Margie I had listened and paid attention to what she enjoyed. It showed her that her, and her likes and dislikes were very important to me. I began to practice this kind of listening with her more often. I watched and listened to what made her smile, what made her laugh. Even when I make mistakes, I notice what makes her upset. I do my best to practice the active listening mentioned above.

If this sounds like a lot of work, or that you may freak out the one you love by watching their every move, rest assured this is not what we are talking about. Try doing this a couple of times a week. If you are out to dinner notice what sides she likes, how she orders her steak. This is not just about food or even picking out gifts you know they will love.

If we listen long enough people will share with us what makes them happy as well as what makes them unhappy. They will tell us what they enjoy and what they do not. Next time you are out having coffee with a friend, notice what they like to talk about. Notice what interests them. Do they like to talk about history? Maybe a book on Ancient Egypt would make a good birthday gift.

This takes a little effort, but the returns are worth their weight in gold. Do this long enough and you will be the best spouse, friend, or coworker. Picking out gifts will be easier than ever and they will be received with more joy than ever before. The conflicts in your life will be reduced. You will find people will want to spend time around you and enjoy doing so. So remember the magic word LISTEN. Use it daily and your relationships will be better than ever.

TIME TO ADD!

One of the tenets of my philosophy has been adding positive to limit or eliminate negative. In my life this would translate to eating a salad to have a little less room for another slice of pizza. The premise here is that it is easier for the brain to add things verses subtracting them. It eliminates the feeling of depriving yourself and makes change easier and less painful. By doing so, your chances of success are greatly increased.

This does not always have to revolve around achieving a goal, or making a change in your life. Taking a few moments to stop and think of what you would like more of in your life can go a long way to giving you a life you really enjoy. That is the first thing I suggest we do today. Pick a time when you have a few minutes to yourself, it can even be fun to do this with your spouse or friend, as long as you both have your own list. Write down a handful of things you would like more of in your life. They can be things from the picture above, or things you just wish to do.

Here comes the part that a lot of you may find strange. Pull out your calendar, or put a reminder in your phone of days you would like to do these very events. Again, set yourself up to win by picking a day on which you can fairly depend. For example, Saturdays I work 2 jobs so there likely will not be much time to include new activities. Also, try to plan on the minimal side. What do I mean by this? Perhaps you would like to meditate 20 minutes every day? Start out by picking at least one or two days a week to do so. That way you can gain a feeling of momentum and success. Before long that momentum may carry you to every day. By contrast, if you pick every day and do not make it, it will give you a feeling of failure and that will go against having a more joyous life.

Why is this exercise so important? We schedule jobs, meetings and all sorts of obligations into our lives, it is vitally important we schedule some joy as well. If this seems like a foreign or crazy idea to you, consider how you feel as you are getting close to a planned vacation? Imagine that feeling, although perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, once a week? It will help return the passion and zest to life. Our lives, in addition to being of service to others, were meant to be enjoyed. If you are not loving your life a fair amount of time you are doing it all wrong. Sure, we all go through tough times, but having something to look forward to can even help with those.

Feel free to share with other readers some of the fun things you plan to add in 2018 in the comments below!

UNWANTED TO MVP

Have you ever felt defeated? Have you ever felt that everything you worked for might not work out? Have you ever felt like all the signs were pointing to the fact you should give up?

The picture above is of Nick Foles. After working hard in his youth to become a great professional football player, he had to wait until the third round to hear his name called. That could give you a feeling of being unwanted, watching player after player being picked before you. Knowing teams thought this player was better than you.

Nick didn’t give up though and joined the Philadelphia eagles. Eventually Nick earned the position of starting quarterback. Time to feel great right? Nick did not hold that position long and was traded to the Rams. Again, he was not wanted.

Nick didn’t give up though. Playing the best he could, often in the back up role. Soon, however, the Rams cut him from their team. Not even wanted as a back up.

Nick did not give up though. Soon he was resigned again by the Philadelphia eagles. This time, he was once again a back-up quarterback. Watching a younger player take the team to the top of their division and into the playoffs while he sat on the bench watching.

Nick did not give up though. What did all of this persistance get Nick Foles? A terrible injury took out the starting quarterback and suddenly he had to lead the team against the best defense in the league. Knowing if he were to lose he most likely would hear if they still had their starting quarterback they would have won.

Nick lead the team to a victory in the championship game, and into the super bowl. Now, on the biggest stage on the world against a team that had already won five super bowls in recent years.

Nick did not give up though. On super bowl Sunday Nick Foles went on to not only lead the eagles to their first ever super bowl victory, but was named the most valuable player as well.

You see my friends, sometimes when life seems to be giving us every reason to give up it is really just preparing us and giving us strength for a greater test and greater victory if only we were to hang on for one more day.

Never give up on yourself, and one day, just like Nick Foles, you will find you are the MVP of your own life.