Monday, April 21, 2014

Self-Esteem Has 6 Pillars

My favorite author on the topic of self-esteem is Nathaniel Branden. No one holds a close second.

Through his writing, I believe he’s done more than anyone else to show just how critical a healthy sense of self is to a person’s overall well-being and happiness.

In his masterpiece, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Dr. Branden brilliantly describes 6 elements that are core to developing strong self-esteem. I list them here with a brief summary of what each entails.

Which of these are strengths for you?

Which one could you develop more fully to increase your sense of worth and value?

1 – The Practice of Living Consciously

You choose to be aware of everything that impacts the actions you take. You’re open to gathering relevant facts that may or may not align with your existing perceptions, and you’re willing to change your opinion readily as you learn new information. You are not threatened by others whose ideas differ from yours. Instead, you welcome the opportunity to learn from them.

“Self-esteem expresses itself in a face, manner, and way of talking and moving that projects the pleasure one takes in being alive.”

2 – The Practice of Self-Acceptance

You are your own best friend. You forgive yourself as readily as you would those closest to you. You acknowledge your human frailties and imperfections, yet you do not allow these to define you. In spite of mistakes, you accept yourself completely. You recognize that if you deny any aspect of yourself, you will be less likely to change and grow in that area.

“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.”

3 – The Practice of Self-Responsibility

You recognize the role you play in all aspects of your life – the quality of your relationships, the way you use your time, the values you choose to live by. You refuse to blame others for your circumstances. You look within for explanations and solutions. You do not feel guilt for what is beyond your control, focusing instead on those areas you can influence.

“No one is coming. If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.”

4 – The Practice of Self-Assertiveness

You honor your own wants and needs. You stand up for yourself. You consistently speak up for yourself. You hold a deep conviction that your wants are important. You’re willing to confront challenging situations and people rather than withdraw or avoid.

“Some people stand and move as if they have no right to the space they occupy.”

5 – The Practice of Living Purposefully

You identify the goals that give meaning to your life, and you use your powers to bring them into reality. You avoid wishful thinking. You translate your thoughts and desires into actions. You exercise self-discipline because you know the importance of organizing your behavior to make sure tasks get done. You recognize that an aspect of purposeful living includes making time for rest, relaxation, fun, and laughter.

“The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements but those internally generated practices that, among other things, make it possible for us to achieve.”

6 – The Practice of Personal Integrity

You live in congruence with your principles. Your words and behavior match. You regularly take time to reflect on actions you've taken and whether they’re aligned with your stated values. You evaluate beliefs and values you've been taught, and you’re willing to question if they are still appropriate for you today. You’re willing to forge your own, if necessary.

“When we behave in ways that conflict with our judgment of what is appropriate, we lose face in our own eyes.”

To gain a deeper appreciation about the importance of each pillar in building your own self-esteem, I highly recommend you read the book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Finding Composure Under Stress

It was a tremendous opportunity.

I’d been invited to speak to 900 entrepreneurs at the fall conference of GKIC, a leading provider of marketing information and tools for building small businesses.

I used to deliver training programs and speak on stage regularly, but that hasn’t been a primary focus for me in more than two decades.

While I was excited about the chance I’d be given, I knew I needed to prepare thoroughly. I’d been a member of this organization for years and had attended many of their meetings. I understood all too well how diverse the membership was and the challenge of creating a message that would captivate and inspire the audience to action.

I crafted my presentation with almost 100 PowerPoint slides, to keep the pace moving fast and hold the attention of the audience.

I rehearsed until I was comfortable with the material and my pace.

With all that preparation, I was still not prepared for what happened when I took the stage.

My mouth went absolutely dry.

I’d never experienced that feeling, in all the talks I’d given in the past.

I felt uncomfortable about taking a drink of water before I even spoke my first words, so I jumped right in. But I was self-conscious of the way I sounded and became distracted.

On top of that, the remote for changing slides had functions in different places than the one I was used to, so I made some early mistakes when changing the initial slides.

I could feel the anxiety building in my body, and I was concerned it would carry over into my voice.

So I paused to get a sip of water, took a deep breath, and reminded myself why I was there. “I am here to serve. They need to hear my message.”

It was as though a switch got turned on inside my head.

In an instant I was able to harness the positive energy I had for my topic and let go of the stress that had threatened to overtake me.

After 5 minutes of faltering, I went on to deliver an excellent presentation in the remaining 55 minutes.

As I later thought about the experience, of course, I wished that I could have made a stronger start.

But I also made sure to give myself credit for maintaining my composure instead of giving in to the fear and panic that bubbled up.

It’s not easy to maintain your cool and keep your feelings under control in the face of adversity. It’s tempting to let emotions take over.

Unfortunately, that can lead to undesirable consequences.

When you take time – even if it’s just a quick minute – to think about the potential impact of such an outburst on you and the people around you, you’re more likely to calm yourself and respond appropriately.

The more often you’re able to engage composure, the easier it will be for you to stay calm in the midst of unexpected situations.

“If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.” 
- Dean Smith, American college basketball coach (1931- )

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Best Kind of Accountability Coach

Several years ago we retained the services of a marketing consultant who gave us some terrific ideas for growing our business.

In the process of working together, I got to know “Brian” well, both personally and professionally. On occasion, he’d confide in me about challenges he was facing with his college-age son.

I remember one time in particular.

Brian described how he’d responded to one of his son’s many requests. I was dumbfounded. This dad was clearly engaging in what any counselor would call “enabling” behavior – doing something for another person that he should be doing for himself. Creating dependence. Not preparing this young man to become a responsible, successful adult.

I made the decision in a split-second to jump in with both feet and ask him some hard questions.

Questions that forced him to think about the consequences of his actions.

He was clearly uncomfortable trying to come up with responses to my questions, but I persisted. I could envision the disastrous father-son relationship unfolding with all kinds of undesirable outcomes. I felt compelled to help Brian see what could happen if he continued to rescue his son.

Later, Brian thanked me and said that conversation was a turning point in their relationship.

And then he used a phrase to describe me that I cherish to this day:


I pride myself on speaking the truth to people, but I try to do it gently, to maintain the other person’s dignity and self-esteem.

I got to thinking…we all need at least one person in our lives who’s willing to be that kind of coach for us, an accountability coach.

Your motivation increases – sometimes by a factor of 10 or more – when you know you have to answer to someone else for your actions.

The founders of 12-step programs understood this. When people start attending meetings, they are encouraged to get a “sponsor.” This is a person who will be there to support them and ask the hard questions to keep them on track.

If you’re trying to make a significant change in your life – whether it’s related to your career, a personal relationship, an addiction, eating habits, or exercise routine – make it a priority to find someone who will agree to be your accountability coach.

This person’s main job is to contact you regularly and ask whether you did what you said you were going to do.

Knowing you’ll have to face this person’s questions helps you stay on track during moments of weakness, distraction or potential excuse-making.

Who’s the best person to ask?

1. Someone you trust. You’re going to be opening yourself up to scrutiny and making yourself vulnerable. So you have to feel confident that he or she will have your best interest at heart and keep confidential anything you share.

2. Someone who will be honest with you. Who would make the best “velvet hammer” for you? You need a person who will tell you the truth without sugar-coating it.

3. Someone who’s willing to contact you regularly. Who can you count on to follow through and stick with the schedule you both agree to? Consistency is key here, so you need a person you can depend on.

Having an accountability coach doesn't have to take a lot of time for either party. The goal is to keep you on track with frequent touch-points. Your coach’s role is to ask questions that reveal if you've been completing the actions you committed to. You can even create the questions you want the person to ask you. After all, YOU know better than anyone what you want to achieve…and what sort of accountability structure will best keep you on track.

If you’d like to investigate a technology that combines a proven process for building new habits with a group of support coaches, check out ProStar Coach. A one-year subscription to this online development system can help you develop the strengths and skills you need to be strong for every aspect of your life.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Listening with Your EYES

For more than 25 years, I've been teaching people how to become better listeners.

During that entire time, I've emphasized the need to really understand what another person is trying to tell you. That involves paying attention to the words, tone of voice and body language.

But I realized another way to think and talk about this process recently, when I was being interviewed by Chris Efessiou on his radio show Straight Up with Chris.

Our EARS are not the only sensory organs that we need to engage to be effective listeners.

If we’re going to “get” a person’s complete message, we also need to use our EYES.

Chris and I were discussing why listening is the foundation for all other communication skills, and why it’s not just about hearing someone speak.

He teaches negotiations at two universities and emphasizes this point with students:

With the art and science of negotiating, 
80% of it is LISTENING and OBSERVING.

I've known for decades the truth of these words, but I hadn't thought about it in terms of using your eyes even more than your ears.

Ignoring what you see when communicating with others can cause you to miss a huge part of the message, often the most important part.

Suppose you’re talking with your teenage daughter. You’re telling her something and she says “Yes” to every point you make. Yet her posture clearly shows that she is not buying what you’re trying to sell her. If you’re not observing that part of her reaction, you’ll miss what she’s really conveying.

Or at work, you've made a difficult decision and announced it to another person who will be impacted by it. You ask if he’s OK with it and you get the response, “It’s fine.” But his body slumps in the chair, and disappointment is written on his face. Are you paying attention to his body language, in addition to his words?

Communication is hard. We don’t learn these essential skills in school, and often we focus on the wrong things – what we want to say, the strength of our position or rationale, attempting to persuade the other person to accept our point of view…

If we can take more time to zero in on others – to truly see who they are and how they’re reacting to our message – we’re much more likely to interpret their response accurately.

This dynamic gives us the opportunity to have real dialogue and go deeper. We can address the discrepancy between their words and their body language, and open the door for them to be honest with us about their real thoughts and feelings.

If you’re genuinely interested in “getting” another person, commit to using your ears and your eyes in every conversation. You may be astounded at what you learn…and what you've been missing.

And if you'd like to learn about other four communication skills I discussed with Chris Efessiou on his show, listen to the full interview.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg and a Pivotal Question

As I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s thought-provoking book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I encountered a passage that popped out at me.

As the sub-title implies, Sandberg addresses this book to women. But it’s an excellent read for men as well. She peels back the curtain on what goes on in women’s heads and in organizations to prevent women from advancing their careers and taking on more leadership positions.

Sheryl Sandberg has the experience and research to back up the points she makes.

She’s been the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook since 2008, and before that was with Google during its start-up years. She has a knack for making companies profitable. She’s also ranked on Fortune’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Her book draws you in as she reveals her own doubts and insecurities when faced with opportunities throughout her life. You can feel her personal struggles because she never presents herself as someone who’s “arrived.” Even today, she fights a strong internal critic. Yet she prevails because she recognizes negative self-talk only serves to sabotage, not build up.

Every chapter is packed with insights that challenge you to think about your own self-limiting beliefs.

But one story stopped me in my tracks because it speaks to our relationships with others, and what we can do to serve others instead of focusing on how they can be useful to us…

Soon after Sandberg joined Facebook, she received a phone call from a business acquaintance in a high level position at eBay. The woman told her:

“I want to apply to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you and telling you all of the things I’m good at and all of the things I like to do. Then I figured that everyone was doing that. So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?”

Sandberg was stunned. Even though she’d hired thousands of people during the previous 10 years, she’d never heard a person say “anything remotely like that.”

This woman’s approach of putting the needs of Facebook first resulted in her being hired to solve Sandberg’s biggest problem: recruiting.

Most people seeking a job put their own interests first. They work hard to position their skills as being valuable to the company, without taking time to find out where the company’s pain points are.

Think about how you could apply this idea with different people in your life, not just in a job interview situation.

You don’t have to be on a mission to “fix” other people’s problems. But with thoughtful questions, a listening ear and a caring heart, you can tune in to what’s important to them.

It requires a shift in focus. You set aside what you might want to talk about in order to understand what’s going on in the mind of another human being.

It’s not easy to connect this way. You can quickly fall back on your own needs and interests.

But if you practice this often enough, you’ll create a habit that results in others treasuring their time with you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Keep Asking, Even When the World Says NO

Imagine this.

You have an idea for a book that you believe would be fantastic. You draft a proposal and send it to five publishers as a test. They all say no.

You try five more. They say no, too.

You’re discouraged but decide to double up and send your idea to TEN more publishers.

Still no takers.

That’s 20 indicators that your idea has no merit.

What would you do at this point?

Most people would give up. Maybe their idea wasn’t so great after all. Or it’s not worth the effort to keep trying.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen faced far worse rejections than this when they were trying to find a publisher for their first Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

They got 144 rejections over a period of 18 months.

But all these rejections did not deter them. They had such a strong belief in their book that they simply moved on to a different publisher each time they got rejected.

Jack Canfield recounts their experience in this short video (2:18).

When you have an idea, goal, product or service that you deeply believe in, recognize that your opportunity can be realized if you commit to continue asking, no matter how many rejections you get.

Remind yourself of this wisdom from Jack Canfield:
“When the world says NO, you say NEXT.”

And then reflect on these inspiring words from people who’ve experienced first-hand the pain of failure, rejection and ridicule, yet persevered until they prevailed…
"If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down 70 times and get up off the floor saying, 'Here comes number 71!'" - Richard DeVos, American businessman (1926- )
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” - Harriet Beecher Stowe, American novelist (1811-1896)
"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing." - Abraham Lincoln, American president (1809-1865)
"I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult... I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking." - Og Mandino, American author (1923-1996)
"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein, American physicist (1879-1955)
“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader (1929-1968)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Help Your Children Learn How to Manage Money

The habits that parents help their children establish while growing up carry over into adult life. Take money, for example.

Kids who are given whatever they ask for don’t appreciate what it takes to work for something you really want. They can easily develop an “entitlement” mindset with adverse consequences later.

Imagine the difference if instead, they learn that when you want something, you have to put forth effort to make it a reality. It doesn’t magically appear out of thin air.

When our daughter Alison turned 13, we decided to give her a clothing allowance. Each month she knew she would receive a set amount of money that she could spend on clothes. And by the way, it wasn’t a generous amount.

She could blow it all on a single blouse or pair of shoes, or she could take advantage of sales, discount coupons and consignment shops to stretch her dollars.

She also understood that she couldn't come back to her dad and me to make up the difference if there were a big-ticket item she wanted to purchase. No, she had to find a way to earn the money. Or she had to save up the allowance over a number of months.

She quickly learned it was fruitless to ask us for more. We’d simply require her to figure out for herself how she was going to buy something she claimed to desperately want.

Yes, at times she complained. Her other friends didn't have these kinds of restrictions, their parents were more lenient, etc. But this occasional whining didn't faze us. We firmly believed that learning how money works in the real world was a critical life skill we needed to teach her.

During her junior year in high school, the French teacher decided to set up a trip to France for the students. Alison was beside herself with excitement about the prospect of visiting that country. When she presented us with the total price for the trip, we agreed that she could go if she paid for half the expenses.

After an initial protest, she started figuring out ways to earn the money. And she did. I’m convinced she enjoyed the trip all the more because she had to invest her own money in the adventure.

It’s been a decade since Alison was a teenager, and these thrifty habits have continued into her adult life.

She and her husband love to travel, and Alison approaches each trip as a personal challenge to combine economy with luxury.

Recently they went to New York City, stayed at the Waldorf Astoria and enjoyed many fabulous meals. But it didn't cost them a fortune because she had applied her finely-honed sleuthing skills to uncover terrific deals online.

Whether it’s clothing, home furnishings or food, she seeks out bargains. You’ll rarely see her pay full price for anything, and she’s taught her dad and me some great tips for shopping at consignment shops and thrift stores.

Her personal money management skills influenced her career choice, too. She works in the financial investment industry, helping people make the most of their money as they plan for the future. She absolutely loves her work and feels a deep sense of satisfaction in guiding others to think about their long-term financial needs.

As parents, one of our most important jobs is to prepare our children to become independent, responsible adults. When they learn how to manage money, they acquire other strengths they’ll need for life, such as self-discipline, patience and effort.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Coach Frank Hall: A Man of True Character

An unforgettable episode aired recently on the CBS show, 60 minutes. Without question, it’s my favorite one to date, highlighting a man whose life will inspire you to be a better person.

Coach Frank Hall was on duty in the Chardon High School cafeteria on the morning of February 27, 2012, when a 17 year-old student walked in and fired 10 rounds into the crowd of students. Six students went down, and Coach Hall immediately chased the student even as the gunman fired his weapon at the coach. The student ran out the building and was caught shortly afterwards by police in the woods. The coach returned to the cafeteria to comfort the injured students as best he could until the medics arrived. Three students had injuries so severe, they did not survive.

No doubt, the coach's actions saved many other lives that day.

Many viewers, as I did, probably thought this story would move into a political statement about stronger gun control laws or a study of why our schools are less safe today.

But that’s not the direction it took.

Instead, we were given a very special gift: the picture of a man whose very being is a finely tuned work of character.

Coach Hall had prepared for this day by the way he lived every minute of his life. He and his wife have four adopted sons, and they're raising these children in a loving environment with clearly stated boundaries, expectations and values.

He was the beloved assistant coach of the football team, inspiring his players daily to give their best effort.

But the memories of that day haunted him. And then he decided to leave that school to become the head coach of a nearby school where the kids “needed him more.”

The turn-around in the lives of those football players was dramatic. One incident in particular illustrates the ripple effect Coach Hall’s leadership had on each player on that team.

One of the football players had “smarted off” to a teacher in the school. Coach Hall required every player on the team to apologize to that teacher, not just the offending player. Two of the players talked about this on-camera and you could tell that they agreed with the coach’s mandate. All the players developed a sense of accountability – individually and for each other. The entire dynamic changed, and they went on to win all but one of their games that season.

Invest 13 minutes to watch this segment (13:26). You’ll discover the power of one human being to touch the lives of others in a profound, lasting way.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Are You Living a BIG, FULL Life?

I was sitting in one of the church pews with my husband, daughter Alison and son-in-law. We were attending the funeral of a good friend, the father of one of Alison’s best friends.

His death had come as a shock. Just two weeks before, he’d been admitted into the hospital for a medical problem…and now he was gone.

The church was packed with family, friends, church members, and patients from his dental practice.

During the service, four people delivered touching eulogies. Reactions alternated between tears and laughter as each person shared special memories of their relationship with Harold.

The first speaker had been Harold’s friend for more than 50 years. They had met their first year at the University of Richmond and remained close throughout the decades.

And he was not alone. There were more than a dozen other men in attendance who could trace their relationship with Harold back to those early college years.

I found it remarkable that Harold had managed to maintain strong friendships with all these people. They had shared a love of U of Richmond football and basketball, attending games together whenever possible over the years. As the friend said, Harold was not a fan, he was a “fanatic” about the Richmond Spiders. Clearly, many of his buddies shared his passion and were equally committed to honoring their friend by attending this service.

The second speaker was a retired minister who had gotten to know Harold as pastor and friend almost 30 years before when he’d been assigned to this church. Again, he and Harold had remained close throughout the years, even as the pastor’s assignments had taken him hundreds of miles away.

Third up was Harold’s oldest of 5 grandsons, a 20-year old college student. He warned us that he was going to cry, and he did…along with everyone else in the church. He delivered a moving tribute to his grandfather, sharing some of their experiences and adventures. It was obvious he deeply admired the man he called “Grandpa” and would be forever impacted by the love and memories they’d created together.

Last to speak was Harold’s daughter, Alison’s friend, who is now an ordained minister herself. Despite her sorrow in the unexpected loss of her father, she was able to pay homage to her dad through her stories about their relationship. She spoke of his high expectations for her throughout her growing-up years. You could tell that, even as an adult, she held his opinion in high regard and valued his approval.

What came across loud and clear as each person spoke was the love and commitment that Harold had for those in his world. Each one recalled how kind and thoughtful he was. He took a genuine interest in others and was always eager to hear what was important to them.

This carried through in his work as well, where he practiced dentistry for over 30 years. He created a caring environment where his staff loved coming to work and his patients actually looked forward to going to the dentist. Many of them were loyal patients for all those years, bringing their children and grandchildren to his practice.

His wife Kathy said that he’d lived a BIG, FULL life. What a great statement. And it had nothing to do with the places he traveled or the money he earned.

No, Harold lived a life dedicated to creating special, memorable experiences for those he loved, just by his presence. He squeezed every ounce of enjoyment from everything he did, and he enriched the lives of all who were privileged to know him.

Think about your own life. What are you doing to make sure it’s BIG and FULL?

“Life is not a ‘brief candle.’ It is a splendid torch that I want to make burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations.” 
- George Bernard Shaw, British playwright (1856-1950)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why It Pays to Be an Optimist

I used to work with someone who had a habit of saying, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Whenever he experienced any kind of setback, he interpreted it as confirmation that things always turned out badly for him.

He honestly believed that he was destined to have awful things happen to him and that he had no control over the outcomes.

ALL of us experience unexpected, negative events in our lives. When you have to deal with this kind of challenge, it’s easy to feel that life’s against you. The difficulties are right in your face, so you focus on them and completely overlook any positive aspects of the situation. You can get discouraged and lose sight of the choices you do have.

It turns out that our beliefs and attitudes dramatically affect what happens to us.

When you’re pessimistic, you anticipate and dwell on the worst-case scenario. You create a movie in your mind of the result you don’t want and play it over and over.

But focusing exclusively on the negatives like this can actually cause your worst fears to be realized. You can end up feeling like a victim and concluding there’s nothing you can do.

Stopping this vicious cycle requires a shift from pessimism to optimism.

Now that doesn’t mean putting on rose-colored glasses and pretending that all is right with the world. It means learning to recognize that every situation in life has both positives and negatives.

With optimism, you see both aspects, but you make a conscious decision to emphasize possibilities and opportunities instead of disasters and problems. You take responsibility for things you can control, and you don’t feel bad or guilty about areas outside of your control.

The attitude you bring to a situation strongly influences its outcome. If you’re convinced things will turn out badly, you probably won’t take steps to achieve the best result.

Open your mind to the positives as well as the negatives, and your worldview will be more complete. If you remember what you have going for you, it will have a major impact on the way you respond and the outcome you achieve.

Take inspiration this 2-minutes clip with Dr. Martin Seligman, who explains the difference between an optimist and a pessimistic – and why the optimist demonstrates greater resilience.

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.” 
- Lucille Ball, American comedian (1911-1989)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How Do You React When Others Make Mistakes?

It was the end of a great week-end.

I had coordinated a 3-day field trip for people who love bird-watching. My husband Lee and I had helped lead groups to various locations around the Outer Banks.

We had 80 attendees, and everything had gone according to plan – lots of birds, good weather and friendly people.

After the tally on the last day – where we gather together and add up all the species seen – several people came up to me to thank me for a great weekend.

I was feeling pretty good until one woman approached me after the others had dispersed.

Everything about her body language screamed that she had strong negative feelings associated with what she was about to say.

“Meg” introduced herself and reminded me that she had registered for the trip via email a few weeks earlier. She was offended that, in my confirmation email, I had asked her if she was a member because her name was not on my copy of the membership roster.

She had replied with a caustic email saying she was a member and added a few other choice words. It turns out she had just paid her dues the week before, and she was quite annoyed that I didn't have the most current membership list to see that she had paid.

In my email response to that message, I apologized to her and even thanked her for setting me straight. I explained that my membership roster was 2 weeks old so I didn't have her name on my list.

But apparently that wasn't good enough.

She felt the need to continue the complaint in person.

I was taken aback and at a loss for words as I listened to her criticism of our process.

I couldn't imagine why anyone would get so upset over such a small thing. Why couldn't she let it go?

I can’t know that answer for sure, of course. But I can speculate, based on my decades of life on the planet interacting with other human beings...

When you don’t have strong self-esteem, it’s easy to take things personally.

You feel threatened by a perceived offense and react negatively. If you’re like Meg, your preferred mode is to verbally attack the other person.

It’s unfortunate, because this type of reaction only serves to damage relationships. Instead of drawing others to you so they can affirm your worth and value, they are repelled.

I feel sad for people like Meg because she chose to overlook the positives and focus on the negative. And then to dwell on those negatives for several days.

After all, this exchange of email messages had taken place weeks earlier.

The lessons I took away?

Be gracious when another person makes a mistake. You've made mistakes, too, and hope others won’t hold them against you indefinitely.

It’s unhealthy – mentally and physically – to allow negative emotions to dominate your way of being. Let go of perceived offenses as quickly as possible.

Don’t assume it’s about YOU. It probably isn't.

Every person you encounter has challenges and struggles. You can brighten their day…or cast a dark cloud over it. Your choice.

“Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year's time, will be forgotten by us and by everybody. No, let us devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings.” 
- André Maurois, French author (1885-1967)

Monday, February 3, 2014

5 Magic Questions for Learning from Your Experiences

Several years ago I attended a large conference for entrepreneurs, with more than 1,000 attendees. The night before the official event kicked off, I was able to attend an exclusive reception for just 100 people. It represented a terrific opportunity to meet potential partners and clients.

After most guests had arrived, the host passed around a microphone so each person could give a 30-second introduction. The idea was to say something compelling about your business so those who might be interested in your products and services could seek you out later.

Fortunately, I didn't have to go first. I wasn't sure of the best approach.

When it my turn did come, I felt like I blew it.

I didn't exude confidence. I didn't grab their attention. Not a single person came up to me afterwards.

During the rest of the reception, I spent a ridiculous amount of time beating myself up for not taking full advantage of that opportunity.

My inner critic was running rampant.

When I got back to my hotel room, I knew I needed to do something to let go of this incident. Otherwise, I’d waste valuable time and energy dwelling on something I couldn’t change…and feeling bad about myself in the process.

In our ProStar Coach system, we teach five questions to help a person process a situation, to draw out lessons learned and make improvements the next time.

We call them “magic” questions because they are truly transformational.

I decided to write out the answers these questions. It would force my brain to think about the situation in a different light.

1. What Happened? What was the sequence of events? Who did what?

2. Why did it happen that way? What were the causes?

3. What were the consequences? Think about the impact of the event. Outcomes? Benefits? Costs? Problems? Resolutions?

4. How would you handle a similar situation in the future? What lessons can you take away that you can apply if this happens again?

5. What will you do NOW? What is your next step?

I wrote down my answers to each question on a piece of paper. Completing this exercise helped me stop thinking about what I’d done and forced me to focus on creating a positive outcome in the future.

The process of thinking through those questions gave me an amazing amount of insight and helped me let go of the past. The endless replays of the earlier scene stopped.

When you encounter a situation that doesn't go the way you’d hoped, take a few minutes to answer these questions.

Don’t just think about them. Write out or type your responses.

This reflection process is one of the most powerful tools available for letting go of the past and creating a positive attitude about the future.