6 Ways to Take Charge of Your Life

A couple weeks ago I smelled something funky in my car. I live in the woods, so I thought maybe a mouse had crawled up in there and died. I put up with it figuring it couldn’t last too long. But four days later when I took the car out again, the smell was horrendous! This time I went in search of the cause, looking under the seats, in the glove compartment and finally in the trunk. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? Nope, it wasn’t eight tiny reindeer. It was five bags of garbage and some used kitty litter. Whoops. I had planned to take that to the dumpster.

5 Ways to Take Charge of Your Life

So I ask you, what are you carrying around that’s making your life unpleasant? Do you want things to get better? Want to take charge?

  1. Stop wishing that X would be different. Instead, decide what you can do today to wring the most good you can out of it. I don’t know of one person who isn’t grappling with circumstances that weren’t of their choosing. “This isn’t how I imagined my life would be” might have crossed your mind once or twice. Believe me, no one is exempt. Yes, you’re stuck for the time being, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find joy somewhere in there. Ask yourself, “If not for X what would I have missed out on?”
  2. Set a “horror floor” of how low you’ll go until you decide “enough is enough.” Too often we allow scope creep to transform our life into something we’d never have chosen. Boundaries get stretched. You agree to overlook it just this once. (But NEXT time, whoa baby, watch out!) So put some standards in place. And if you relax them in a moment of weakness, know that tomorrow you can give it another go. Just because you slipped off the horse once doesn’t mean it has to become a permanent state.
  3. Ask for what you want. It’s not being selfish to go after something that’s important to you. Too often, we feel we have to be satisfied with the leftovers. Of course, that means we have to take the time to figure out what we DO want. We have to be able to articulate it. And we have to think enough of ourselves to believe we deserve it. That’s what assertiveness looks like.
  4. Learn something new. It’ll engage your mind, increase confidence and maybe make you more marketable. It’ll open your world up to new opportunities. This year I learned how to shoot and edit video for client projects. At first I felt like a dummy. I couldn’t even figure out how to get the video file out of the camcorder and onto my Mac. (Oh, a card reader? Huh. How ‘bout that.) Here’s the key: it’s something you can do without permission from anyone else. It puts you in charge. You get to choose.
  5. Re-arrange the furniture. Do it at home or in your office. You will feel IN CONTROL! It’s a great way to start handling things. Feel what it’s like to make a positive change in your environment. Of course you’ll want to leave the light on at night for a while so you don’t stumble into anything in the dark. But then again, you might bump into something you haven’t noticed in a while. 
  6. Define what success looks like. But remember, you don’t have to go from zero to 100 in 60 seconds to be an achiever. There are a lot of points along the scale that would qualify. Is someone listening to you who never did before? Can you wake up at least one morning each week without fear or dread? Have you earned even 10% more than you did last year? Are you now able to call a spade a spade? Forward movement counts. And again, you get to decide where the bar is set.

Have you already tackled something on that list? How did it work out for you?

Podcast: How a House Fire and Burned Body Led to Profound Resilience

Don Keller and Betsy Keyes embody the definition of “resilience.” In 2010, a Denver house fire that destroyed their home also burned Don over 40 percent of his body. Working together, they came to a new understanding of resilience that transformed them and inspires others. This is their story.

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3 Ways to Change to a Positive Attitude

Every day is a new adventure, isn’t it? Did you know we can make a conscious decision each morning as we jump out of bed how we’re going to approach the day? I mistakenly thought that one’s attitude had to be heavily influenced by what happens to us.

TurtleUpsideDown

I know, I know, we’ve all heard the saying by Charles R. Swindoll that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

But until a few life-changing events happened, it never occurred to me that I could take charge. We don’t have to succumb to circumstances unless we want to. We don’t have to react in ways others might find understandable just because something bad happened. The willingness of others to cut us slack doesn’t mean we should adopt a position of learned helplessness.

To some degree, it’s true events can have a bearing on our thinking and behaviors. But it’s also true we can train ourselves to have more of an optimistic mindset. This is called “learned optimism”, a term coined by Dr. Martin Seligman in his 1990 book by the same name. He says that a talent for joy can be cultivated. This approach is called positive psychology

So, we’re not stuck with a pessimistic perspective if we really want to act differently. We can choose to think about our reactions to adversity in a different way and see the event as an unlucky situation – just a temporary setback that doesn’t define our lives, our work or relationships. The event is not personal, it’s not permanent (in most cases) and it doesn’t have to ripple throughout the rest of our life – unless we choose to let it.

THREE STEPS TO CHANGE OUR ATTITUDE

1. Optimists point to temporary causes for negative events while pessimists point to permanent causes. We can think about the event as something that won’t last. My Uncle used to say, “This too shall pass.” While the event itself may be something permanent, the affect it has on us doesn’t have to be.

2. Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness, but pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole. We don’t have to allow a negative event to filter into family, relationships, self-image but can build figurative walls around it to keep it contained. In Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, he urges us to create barriers to limit the spread of something toxic.

3. Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves. I’m fond of saying, “It’s never JUST business, it’s ALWAYS personal.” But in this case, we can’t take things personally if we want to remain optimistic. People who say, ‘I’m such a dummy” or “Why did I do that? I was just being stupid” are furthering a pessimistic, negative self-image. (This is different than being personally accountable for an error we made.)

OPTIMISTS ARE MORE SUCCESSFUL

A few other reasons why being optimistic is a good use of your energy: optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. In fact, MetLife Insurance hired Dr. Seligman to study the performance of their sales consultants and found that optimists outsold pessimists by 21% in the first year and 57% in the second year. 

You can still be realistic and be an optimist. It doesn’t mean you are naive or wearing rose colored glasses to your detriment or that of others. But, you can see yourself and the negative events that happen to you as temporary. You can allow good events to brighten every area of your life rather than just the area in which the event occurred. And you can blame bad events on causes outside of yourself, which has the added benefit of increasing self-confidence.

So as you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, choose the position you’ll take and attitude you’ll embrace in the day ahead. Make a conscious decision to live as an optimist and watch your life improve in ways you couldn’t expect. This is one attitude adjustment you’ll never regret!

Q: Do you see yourself as an optimist? If so, has it served you well? Send me an email if you’d like to share your opinion.

3 Steps to Find Purpose in Work and Life

Do you want your life and work to have purpose and meaning? If you know what your purpose is, can you put it into words? How would you feel if you knew exactly what you were supposed to be doing?

How to Find Purpose in Life by Laura Benjamin

You’re probably thinking, “What kind of fairy tale is this, Laura? Don’t you know I’m just trying to keep my head above water, hold onto my job, juggle the family and squeeze in a little sleep now and then? Purpose is something you get to think about when you retire – something I may never be able to do!”

Au contraire! It’s very possible to discover why you were put on this earth and what you were meant to do along with everything else on your plate. In fact, it will make your “plate” more fulfilling. It’ll reduce stress, bring more joy into your life and give you a greater sense of direction.

Sound like a miracle cure? Well, it is. But it takes some internal work to get there. I’ve put my thinking cap on, done a little research and pulled together resources and ways you can start the process:

Step 1: Become Self-Aware

You’ve got to know what makes you tick. Getting to the core of who you are with specific words and language makes it possible to keep a clear “avatar” in sight. (A graphical representation of a person’s alter ego, just like in the movie.) That way we stay congruent and avoid confusion when life throws us a curveball. It helps us make better choices about work and relationships. We won’t get distracted, frustrated or feel like we’re spinning our wheels as much.

So for starters, get the book StrengthsFinder 2.0. In the back of the book is a key code to take an in-depth online assessment. It will identify your top five personal strengths. It may validate what you already know about yourself. Here’s my profile if you want to see a sample of the report. You can use your strengths in a variety of occupations, but as long as you keep them front and center in your world, work and life will feel more rewarding.

Next, go to Imperative.com to learn your “Purpose Pattern” – there is no cost to this. You’ll get a purpose statement that clarifies who you impact, why you do what you do and how you achieve impact. I can’t speak to the validity of this assessment, but it seemed to spit out some pretty accurate statements when I took it. It definitely lined up with my results on the StrengthsFinder.

Create a Purpose Statement. Print out those assessments and use a highlighter to indicate keywords that really resonate with you. Then, combine the best-of-the-best into a sentence that summarizes your primary motivator. Ex: My purpose is to help individuals or groups create opportunities for success by leveraging strengths, building engagement and taking action. Your purpose statement will not include a specific occupation or cause. It should reflect what drives you – what makes life more meaningful, regardless of the job you hold. But the more you build your life and work around a purpose statement, the happier you will be.

I’m a big fan of DISC personality assessments too. (Here is my personal profile.) I’ve used DISC for 20 years in my work and think it’s easier to understand and apply than many others. Also, Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love, has created a few profiles on personality, values and spiritual beliefs from DISC theory. (Affiliate link)

Step 2: Experiment and Innovate

I don’t believe we wake up one day with a great epiphany about what brings us meaning in life. I’ve found it’s a gradual discovery process that follows the “lean” approach: try something on for size, experiment, and learn from our efforts. Then try it over again with new information. Over time, we get closer and closer to a perfect fit. As long as you’re innovating and moving forward, you’re successful.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David & Goliath, he says that innovators possess “openness” – they challenge their own preconceptions. They are also “conscientious” – they have discipline and persistence to carry out ideas. They are “disagreeable”, meaning they are willing to take social risks and do things others might disapprove of. They are willing to test and see what works. Then they adapt and test again.

What holds us back? Gladwell says, “We are prone to being afraid of being afraid.”

Step Three: Face the Fear

Art of Work Book by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins has just written The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. I haven’t read it yet, but I was pretty impressed with his podcast, The Seven Stages of Finding Your Calling.

In the podcast he says, “If you wait to feel courageous, you’ll never move forward. They (people who found their calling) learned to do it afraid. Fear does not prevent you from a dream. It tells you you’re on your way.” ~Jeff Goins

So list your fears. Bring them out in the open so you can stare them down, eyeball to eyeball. They serve a purpose. We take action when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the benefits of standing still.

“Work begins when the fear of doing nothing at all finally trumps the terror of doing it badly.” ~Alain de Botton

Second-guessing is fear in disguise. We talk ourselves out of some fabulous ideas. Stop over-thinking things. Few people are actually watching – they’re too distracted by their own problems.

Take a step. Give yourself a project. Don’t remain frozen in place. Your action may not be THE solution, but it will lead you closer to better outcomes. Movement helps us focus on process rather than fear.

Finally, please know that most of us wander this world wondering what we are meant to be and do. You are not alone. But rather than stay frustrated, put yourself in situations where you can apply your strengths and live out your purpose statement. It’s possible you may find purpose in one segment of your life at a time – faith, family, fun, work. And clarity in one area leads to another, and another. Have patience. Give it purposeful attention and the puzzle pieces will start to fit.

Additional Reading:

  • The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Why Your Biggest Embarrassment Makes You More of a Leader

Has something happened to you that you’re embarrassed to admit? Was it fair? Was it your fault? Do you feel like a fraud? Are you letting it keep you from leadership in your field or being of service to others?

How to get over your fear of failure

We were having lunch, my friend and I, catching up on business and life. But there was a purpose for our meeting that had a lot to do with his future plans. So after the small talk, he told me his story.

“I was passed over for promotion. It took me totally by surprise and put an end to my career. The worst part was, everyone knew it. I went from being the ‘go to guy’ to someone they’d pass in the hall with little more than ‘hello’. My opinions were ignored. Invitations dried up. It was the longest year of my life.”

But the opinion he held of himself was more significant than the reaction of co-workers. It shook his self-confidence and made him question the future.

“How can I help others achieve great things when I wasn’t successful in my own career? What gives me the right to offer advice, when I feel like I was a failure?”

  • Can you improve a relationship after you’ve been divorced?
  • Should you sit on a panel if your business went bankrupt?
  • Can you still parent if your child took a dark path?
  • Are you considered a community leader after losing an election?
  • Does depression keep you from offering hope to another?

Are you ashamed of something in your life that you’re using as a reason to keep from moving forward?

My friend almost did. And that would have been a darned shame. It’s because of that experience his value increased.

No one wants to follow someone who’s never been tested. You have figured out ways to bounce back from disappointment, rejection and loss. Like Thomas Edison, you’ve learned thousands of ways NOT to do something. You have learned how to navigate rough waters.

Do not let your worth be defined by one sliver in time. And don’t let the wisdom and experience you’ve gained from life’s ups and downs go to waste.

If you allow this one event to keep you isolated and diminished, someone somewhere will suffer because they didn’t have access to lessons you’ve learned.

You offer others a high value alternative to what, too often, is the norm: Big Hat, No Cattle (Randy Newman)

“Big head, no brain. Big snake, no rattle. Big boat, no paddle. Big belly, no heart.” 

You may not be “perfect”, wealthy or powerful by popular measure, but people of substance recognize battle scars as stripes on your sleeve.

In basic training, they took away our civilian clothes and issued fatigues, a version of the working man’s overalls. Only after we passed numerous tests and weeks of training did we get to wear our dress blues. Basically, you had to “earn your clothes”.

You have earned your clothes and through those struggles have built a great deal of equity in character and competence.

And you’re not alone. Many around you have forged ahead despite tremendous turmoil. You can tell who they are. There is wisdom in their eyes, patience in their soul and compassion in their hearts.

Those are the folks with the biggest impact on others. They’ve earned the right to say they are leaders.

How to Be a Change Agent

My daughter was in junior high and chomping at the bit to go out for the track team. There was only one problem: she needed new running shoes and we were flat broke.

change agent article by Laura Benjamin

I asked her, “Sweetie, can it wait?”

“No Mom. We start track next week and if I don’t have the shoes I won’t be able to join.”

Talk about feeling guilty. It had been my choice to follow the self-employment path, which meant I gained freedom but gave up a steady paycheck for “income ambiguity”.

Clearly though, it was time for a tradeoff.

We both wore about the same size, so we cooked up a plan where she would borrow my shoes until I could buy her a new pair.

The only catch was MY running routine. I was determined to lose weight and get into shape, so the thought of compromising my own goal wasn’t too attractive.

So here’s what we did. I’d run at the track on her school grounds in the morning. Then I’d stick the shoes in her locker, to which she’d given me the combination. Trusting girl! She’d run with her team in the afternoon and bring the shoes back home from school so we could do it again the following day. It was a scathingly brilliant idea! 

What a team. We were so smart; we thought we could change the world!

You may not want to change the world, but I’ll bet there’s something or someone you’d like to have influence over. Do you want to:

  • Persuade employees to dress more professionally?
  • Encourage a client or co-worker to treat you with more respect?
  • Negotiate expectations in a relationship?
  • Tell your boss “no”?
  • Cope with a non-negotiable change, such as loss, disability, etc.?
  • Get control over your life?

Something for change agents to ponder:

  • Is there really a problem? Name it. Use my CARLA Concept™ to analyze.
  • Decide to be successful. Intend to solve the problem – that’s half the battle.
  • Incremental change is still progress. Few of us go straight from 0-100.
  • Assume there’s plenty for everyone (Habit 4, Dr. Stephen Covey)
  • Tradeoffs are to be expected. What kind of horse-trading will you do?
  • Test a small solution before committing all your resources.
  • Realize you DO know enough, you’re smart enough, thin enough, young enough.

We all want to have an impact, and we can, even if it means we do it one person, one problem, one small opportunity at a time.

I wish I could say my daughter still welcomes my wardrobe suggestions. Those days are long gone. There’s little in my closet she would wear today – and I mean that literally!

Reading Recommendations:

  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries
  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey
  • When Was the Last Time You Did Something New?

One Amazing Leadership Example

When I graduated from high school I decided to enlist in the Air Force. The idea of earning money for college, building a career and seeing the world intrigued and excited me. My friends were surprised. My parents were supportive. There was just one small problem – I had to lose 20 pounds to meet the Air Force weight requirements.

LaurieBasicTrainingSo all summer long I ate hard boiled eggs and tossed green salads. I ran around the neighborhood trying to jog off the weight. And slowly it did come off.

Then came the big day when my parents drove me to the Induction Center in Buffalo. I was eager to board the plane to basic training, but first there was a physical to face.

I sucked in my breath and stepped on the scale. The little old man with the bald head and wire rimmed glasses moved the weight slowly across the bar. I froze and watched as it settled in place just short of the goal. And my future fogged over as he said, “I’m sorry, young lady, but you don’t pass. You’re three pounds too heavy.”

I was devastated. Who knew how long I’d have to wait before I could join. Facing my siblings and friends would be embarrassing. We’d already said our good-byes.

So I waited for my recruiter to find me as I sat in the hall pondering my fate. He was a tall, thin man who had been very encouraging during my summer of sacrifice. He was eager to hear my news, but could tell something was wrong.

“I’m not going Terry,” I said with the tears starting to slip. “I still have three pounds to lose.”

He sat quiet for a minute, then jumped up and said, “We’re not done yet. Follow me.”

He pushed open the door to the stairwell and held it for me. “How bad do you want to go?” he asked. When I said it was the most important thing in my life, he started up the stairs.

“Then, follow me,” he said.

And together we ran up and down the stairs of the Federal Building in Buffalo NY until my legs were so wobbly I could hardly stand. He ran those stairs beside me when he could have just let me give up.

The little old bald man with the glasses was surprised to see me back. I stepped up on that scale and watched again as he moved the weight across the bar. And it stopped at half-pound-too-heavy.

Then he leaned over towards me and whispered, “Young lady, I’m going to let you pass. But if you EVER tell ANYONE about this, I’ll haunt you till the day you die!”

So at every speech I give and every chance I get, I tell this story and haven’t been haunted yet!

It’s what we DO that matters most. And sometimes taking that first step is all that’s needed for others to follow. Terry Nichols, thank you for being willing to lead. You made more of a difference than you’ll ever know.

Has anyone made a big difference in your life? How so? Please share in the comments below.

5 Ways to Cope with Catastrophe or Change

Something bad has happened.

You might not have seen it coming, but it’s here and you’ve got to cope. I’m not going to trivialize anyone’s struggles by comparing your situation to mine. I have friends who would gladly swap their circumstances for a burned out house in a heartbeat! But here’s what I’m learning as I navigate my way through a change I didn’t ask for:

1. Name your fears. You might not be living a worst case scenario, but it could be mighty close to that. It might loom large in your mind, consuming much of your focus and energy. You can think up all kinds of negatives if you draw your present circumstances out to their possible conclusions. The best way to face reality is to write them down. Chances are that the worst will not happen. It’s just as likely things will get better. It’s possible you’ll be surprised by something good in the end.

2. Plan for a new reality. Name one positive outcome you’d like to see happen and hold it in front of you like a beacon. Let it guide you to focus on something of substance. The 80/20 rule states that 20% of our effort generates 80% of the outcome. A small percentage of focus creates the majority of results. It doesn’t require massive amounts of energy – just leverage your strengths. Become like a laser. Shine the spotlight on one success you’d like to target.

3. List the benefits. There will be some. Not every situation results in positives but most will. Make a list. A good way to state them is, “If it hadn’t been for ‘X’, then ‘Y’ wouldn’t have happened. After my house burned down, we discovered my well had been drilled right next to my leach field, the septic tank was leaking and our gas line ran from a connection in my neighbor’s front yard with no easement agreement! New construction took care of all those code problems.

4. Break free from the spin cycle. Do you notice a new habit you’ve formed since the “incident”? Are you procrastinating? Have you isolated yourself? Do you avoid certain places or faces? Have you developed a behavior that doubles as comfort food? (It brings temporary solace, but isn’t healthy in the long run.) Perhaps you’ve buried yourself in a blanket to avoid risks and threats. End that habit and replace it with a new one – a better one.

5. Mind the way you model for others. You might not think of yourself as a role model, but you are. There are co-workers, neighbors, friends and family watching how you handle yourself. They’re not looking for ways to “catch” you, but are definitely paying attention. They wonder, “How would I handle this, if I were in her shoes?” It’s understandable to have a “moment” or two. It’s also inspiring to show grace under pressure and give those around you courage to face their own fears and frustrations. You have no idea how highly people think of you!

You CAN cope. Take it one step at a time. Break this thing down into bits and focus on one issue a day, or a week. Remember what you’ve learned from previous encounters with trouble and trauma? You will get through this and come out on the other side a much stronger, resilient, compassionate person. You will be changed for the better!

What have you learned from previous encounters with trouble and trauma? How did you get through it? (Tell us in the comments below)