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Self-Awareness

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Don't Leave Your Discipline Behind

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

Life comes to us in seasons. Just when we’ve been enjoying a particular period in our lives, things change. Sometimes our disciplines and routines don’t translate well into a new season.

In the past, I’ve failed to notice seasonal shifts and assumed I was slacking, or worse, on the verge of losing a hard-won habit. But when life shifts on us, we must be prepared to tinker, or downright vary how we approach our routines. 

If you’re wrestling with getting back into the swing of things, reevaluate where you are. Is it a new season? Try to determine what’s different, and make adjustments that will reestablish the discipline you’ve been building.

Life doesn’t stand still. New seasons are coming. Don’t leave your discipline behind.

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Willful Blindness

The vice of willful blindness is easy to fall prey to. It has to do with reality avoidance. When we're operating in willful blindness, we're dead set on refusing to look at the handwriting on the wall. We instead cling to the belief that, “As long as I don’t look, the problem isn’t there.” 

In my early twenties I engaged in this vice as it related to the balance of my checking account. As long as I didn’t log in and look at it, it wasn’t overdrawn! 

Let's call what all of this refusing-to-see really is, an act of cowardice. The opposite of willful blindness is willful seeing, an act of courage because it involves taking a good hard look

Refusing to open your eyes and examine the evidence is no way to live. Try this. Take a trusted friend or mentor out for coffee and ask him where he may discern blind spots in your life. Listen closely. Thank him for his insight. Then spend every day thereon with eyes wide open.

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The Stuff You Surround Yourself With

You're only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
— Austin Kleon

If you surround yourself with Big Macs & french fries most days, you’re going to have problems with your health. If you surround yourself with good books & good people, my bet is you'll have a good life

Look around. What surrounds you? Who surrounds you? What gets your attention? What activities soak up your free time? Are they growth-oriented? Do they build up your character or wear it down? 

Just as "what goes up must come down;" so too, "what goes in must come out."

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A Stop Doing List

“Those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.”

— Austin Kleon

Everyone has a To Do list, that magical productivity tool that helps us knock out tasks and accomplish more in a given day. But what about a Stop Doing list? How many of us have one of those? 

I first ran across the concept while reading, Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. A Stop Doing list is exactly what it sounds like. Here are a few from my own list.

I will stop:

• Saying, “yes” when I feel unsure about making a commitment
• Strong-arming people over to my side  
• Going over the designated end times for calendared events

Danielle Laporte says that, "What you stop doing is just as important as the things you start doing.” Why not begin brainstorming a list? My bet is this new list will increase your productivity more so than your trusty To Do. 

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Principles Were Made to Be Bent

Principles aren’t made to be broken, but every once and a while they ought to be bent. 

A principle is wisdom for living. It’s a bite-sized piece of philosophy that's been tried, tested and found true—usually. 

But principles must always be counterbalanced by circumstances. And sometimes circumstances dictate that a principle should be bent. The trick is to discern “when.” 

A principle I live by is “Persevere when it hurts.” It's good advice. Much good can come from pushing beyond my feelings of discomfort. Yet, if I apply it to every life situation, I can find myself holding onto things I should’ve let go of a long time ago. Sometimes letting go is the better, wiser choice.

Don’t set your principles in stone, and, at the same time, don’t break them whenever it’s convenient. Instead, discern when circumstances dictate that a principle should be relaxed. Then, by all means, bend. 

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The Weakness of Our Strengths

Strengths are inherently good and we all have a handful. They can, however, go bad when we use them selfishly or overemphasize their importance in our lives. If we’re not vigilant, our strengths can degenerate into a weakness. 

People that are on the path of continual improvement know how to keep their strengths in check. They don’t let them overrun their critical thinking. They keep an open mind. And they always remember that their opinions are colored by their strengths. Therefore, they value, and are eager to hear, different perspectives.

A strength, we should remember, is a gift. While we can grow in it and always get better, it would be silly to say that the gift itself is something we earned. My greatest strength may be my drive, but I can use that strength to hurt others by pushing my work ethic on them. How about you? What is one of your strengths? And how can it degenerate into a weakness?

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Defeat Self-Defeating Patterns

“We have met the enemy. And he is us.” 
— Walt Kelly 

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve come to understand that the enemy isn’t always someone else. The problem, many times, starts and ends with us. 

We all have self-defeating patterns that need to be defeated. These patterns are entrenched ways of operating. They are unhealthy blind spots. Here are a few of mine:

• I overvalue work and undervalue relationships   
• I wrongly assume I always have the right answer
• I lash out in anger
• I tend to overcommit

The way to defeat self-defeating patterns is to first know what they are, and second, stay mindful of them daily. Yes. Daily.
 
You’ll need some daily trigger that helps remind you about some of your most toxic mindsets. I use an app on my phone to make and review my list as I’m driving into work. You can also set an alarm to remind you at an opportune time, or go the old-fashioned route and stick a postcard on your bathroom mirror 

Staying mindful of your self-defeating patterns is how you defeat them. This isn’t rocket science. It’s right there in the Bible. When the light shines, the darkness flees.

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Pruning Time

“Every branch that bears fruit, He [God] prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”
— John 15:2b

Pruning is a healthy thing; it’s a good thing. It’s that season where the Heavenly Gardener cuts away any unnecessary or unwanted branch from your life. It may hurt. You may not understand it. You may wonder why He’s cutting and trimming and reshaping. 

In these times, we get an opportunity to prove our allegiance to Him by trusting in His pruning abilities. Let Him work. The Heavenly Gardener knows best.

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The Law of Design

When the sun goes down, the day is done. You can’t get it back. If it didn’t go as you’d hoped, your only option is to do better tomorrow. But, you won’t do better tomorrow, unless you sit down and begin designing today. 

Have you ever stopped long enough to think about what an ideal day would look like for you? How would your morning go? What are the things you would do? How about midday and evening? Can you picture it?

The Law of Design says that if you don’t plan your life, someone else will. 

So, stop. Think. And then begin designing. Discover your ideal day. Don’t hold anything back. Make it exceptional. Make it challenging. Make it fun. Be creative. Get it exactly like you want it, then go out and live it.

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Turning Points

A Turning Point is an earthquake of the soul. 

It’s a seismic shift in our outlook and way of life. Its aftermath leaves us unsettled, redefined, changed, and there’s no going back.

Everybody experiences turning points in their lives. They can be as obvious as a wedding or a conversion experience and as subtle as a timely word spoken by a mentor or a nascent thought that causes you to rethink your thinking.

They can also be moments that tear you apart. The loss of a mother, moving away from a place you love, for example. These quakes can strike at any moment. They will redefine you. You must, therefore, make sure they redefine you in the right way.  

While it’s true, the days and weeks of our lives are for the most part stable; life can, and often does, change in an instant. Take some time this week to reflect. Answer this question: What have been three of the most powerful turning points in my life?

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Go to Work On Your Personality

Did you know you have a basic personality type that plays a huge role in determining the actions you take every day? Do you know what type you are?

There are many tests you can take to find out. One I like is called the Enneagram. I highly recommend you take a personality test (like this one) to gain insight into your natural temperament. 

These tests do an excellent job of keying you into the healthy and harmful aspects of your personality. I found it invigorating to take actionable steps on such low-hanging fruit to self-improvement. Reducing the harmful tendencies in your personality is also one of the best ways to level up. Marshall Goldsmith wrote about this very thing in his book entitled, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. You may want to check it out. 

Take a test. Better acquaint yourself with what makes you tick. And have the courage to make the necessary changes.   

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Optimism is a Force Multiplier

"Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."
— Colin Powell

Have you ever needed to get a long, stubborn nail out of a piece of wood? Sometimes you can extract it using your hand. Other times you need something stronger. Enter the force multiplier known as the crowbar. If you take a crowbar to any unyielding nail, it will, without a doubt, pop out. A force multiplier, as the example illustrates, is anything that drastically increases your effectiveness. This could be a tool, tactic or technique. It could even be a temperament. 

Optimism, as Colin Powell suggests, can act like a force multiplier. Continually filling your heart & mind with it has a way of producing the kind of outcomes we all hope and wish for.

Take some time and think about the force multipliers in your life. List them out in your journal. If you're having a hard time thinking of some, ask yourself: "What action, thought, or thing dramatically increases my effectiveness?" 

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Assess Chronic Choices

”Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.”
– Bill Murray

Murray is hilarious, and right. I've made stupid decisions that were downright bad for me; I still do from time to time.

The real thing we need to watch out for, however, is making bad decisions chronically. These poor decisions are so detrimental to us precisely because we make them habitually.

Because they can have significant repercussions for our future, it’s worth taking the time to try and identify them. Spend some time today evaluating your daily decisions. Can you identify an unhealthy choice that's chronic? If so, how can you correct it?

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What Your Gifts are For

We all have some ability that just comes naturally to us. This natural ability makes us, well… naturally good at something. We call it a gift or talent, and most believe it is something God-given.

While the gift is given to us, its benefits are meant for others. Yes, it’s true; we do receive significant benefits also. All gifts and talents, however, come with an obligation or duty to utilize them for the good of our neighbor. 

Are you a natural born leader? Naturally charismatic? Smart as a whip? Uncommonly disciplined? Strong? Quick? Creative? Persuasive? Persistent?

Congratulations: the gift is a great benefit.
Warning: the gift is also a great responsibility.

As the Proverbs suggest, if you work on your gifts, they will make a place for you. It's true...a man’s gift does make room for him—as long as he stewards it for others.

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You Don’t Need a Perfect Record

Perfect seasons are rare, awesome, and most definitely not a pre-requisite to winning the big game. You never have and never will need a perfect record to be a champion. 

Just ask the 2011 New York Giants. Remember their regular season record? 9-7. Ouch. They almost lost as many games as they won. Yet, this team somehow snuck into the playoffs and ended up winning the Super Bowl.

When it comes to habit formation, we need to rethink what winning looks like. Research is now telling us that perfection isn’t what’s important; it’s consistency that matters. In other words, when you begin kickstarting a new habit, forget the idea of amassing a perfect record, and, instead strive for a consistent one. Consistency is key because it implies not giving up. 

“Yeah, I messed up a few times, I made a couple of mistakes, but I’m going to learn, get back up, and keep at it.” 

Here are the two things to remember:  1. You don’t have to possess a perfect record to be a champion. And, 2. No champion ever became one by giving up.

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You Need Companions

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, there’s no way Frodo fulfills his quest without the constant companionship of Samwise the Brave. 

If you go back and watch the trilogy, you’ll discover that Sam lugs nearly all of the equipment on their perilous quest. This foreshadows the final scene in which Sam—on his back—hauls Frodo up Mount Doom.

Sam’s companionship helps Frodo fulfill his quest and Samwise the Brave completes his own in the process.

Companionship, however, isn’t just for hobbits. We humans should also gather companions for the journey. But we must choose our fellow-travellers carefully because those closest to us will define us.  At the end of the day, we’re made by the relationships we make. 

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Eliminate the Dross

Taking in something new is a great way to grow; but sometimes an even better way is by getting rid of something old. Over the years each of us accumulates dross, that worthless material that tarnishes. Vices, negative habits and mindsets don't just come and go, they stick and must be smelted off.

If you want to get down to the elemental metal, you have to eliminate the dross. What impurities in your life need to go? What worthless belief or habit can you melt away?

If you want to get down to the elemental metal, you have to eliminate the dross. What impurities in your life need to go? What worthless belief or habit can you melt away?

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On Building Relationships that Last

“All great relationships, the ones that last, require productive conflict in order to grow.”
— Patrick Lencioni

At my startup, we have been practicing organizational health for the last three years. Establishing this habit is one of the great gifts a founder gives to his team.

Once a month we all gather around a table and recount how each person has excelled in the last 30 days, genuine compliments here, nothing sappy or shallow. We also highlight past moments where we felt like someone dropped the ball, or did or said something that bothered or hurt another. 

These moments around the table can be tense, dramatic, even surprising. The beauty is we get all of the dysfunction out. All of the unspoken nuisances and festerings flee when everyone is honest, vulnerable, and willing to receive feedback with a generous heart.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy getting to the office and working with our team. I couldn’t say that about my previous company, however, in large part because we weren’t being intentional about staying healthy as a team.

Health is something you work at, it’s not something that naturally occurs. Cultivate it and enjoy the benefits. 

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