What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

I first learned about Marshall Goldsmith when he was a guest on the EntreLeadership podcast and quickly decided I would read one of his books. What stuck out to me about his interview on the podcast was when he described his purpose in life and what motivates him. He said his purpose in life is not to prove himself smarter than others but to provide positive value to other people’s lives. This struck me as something that I also strive for but often fall short of and I wanted to learn more. A few weeks later I found Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There sitting on my bookshelf at home. It turns out my wife had a copy from years ago! I grabbed the book off the shelf and began to read it. Here are a few of the helpful ideas I got from the book.

  1. Changing behavior

“People will do something – including changing their behavior – only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

The fact is that I cannot make anyone change unless they choose to change. I cannot convince anyone to change unless that change aligns with the values they hold. I am learning that I see the world not as it is, but as I am. I see the world through the lens of my own experiences.

On the other hand this has shown me that when I continuously fail to change my own behavior, even though I know I need to change, it means I need to look deeper. Is it because I am not fully convinced of the value of the change? How do I link the change to what motivates me? A good illustration of this idea happened recently in my home. For weeks my home office has been a mess of unpacked boxes as we just moved into the house. I do not love to unpack and organize my things; however, my wife loves the house to be organized and looking presentable. I do not love to unpack but I love a clean and organized work space. I realized the motivation to unpack and organize my office came from the fact that I love my wife and want to please her and I value a clean working environment. I had to link the mundane task of unpacking and organizing to a deeper value that truly motivates me.

  1. Interpersonal behavioral habits

Goldsmith outlines 21 behavioral habits in his book that we have all probably been guilty of at one point or another. The trick is picking the right ones to begin working on. Here are the four that stuck out to me as the ones I need to work on the most:

#2 Adding too much value – when we feel the need to add our own opinion to every conversation or discussion.

#12 Making excuses – when we express our behavior as fixed trait so that people will excuse us. If we set low expectations for ourselves they become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them.

#16 Not Listening – this habit is very disrespectful to others. It sends the message “I don’t care about you”, “I don’t understand you”, and “You’re wasting my time.”

#21 Goal obsession – when we are so focused on achieving our goal we do it at the expense of our larger mission.

The habit of goal obsession is the behavior I have been working on changing recently. I love to read and learn from books. I have certain goals and ways to measure those goals based on how many words per minute and how many books I want to read. When I am reading a book in the morning and my wife or someone else interrupts me, how do I respond? My goal is to read, learn, and grow so that I can be a better communicator, leader, and serve others better. When I get interrupted by someone it is often a chance to display the same behavior I am trying to grow in. I should not obsess over the goal of reading a certain amount at the expense of ignoring people around me.

  1. Feedback

“It’s my contention – and it’s the bedrock thesis of this book – that interpersonal behavior is the difference-maker between being great and near-great, between getting the gold and settling for the bronze.”

In order to develop better interpersonal behavior, we need to receive feedback. We know we need to change, we know we need feedback from those around us to know what to change, but we don’t always know how to get the feedback. Goldsmith writes about three forms of feedback: solicited, unsolicited, and observation.

Solicited feedback – we ask people for their opinion and they give it. This is hard because in general people don’t want to give this kind of feedback and we don’t want to hear it. It’s best to get this kind of feedback confidentially so that no one is embarrassed and we don’t get defensive. Instead of asking “What do you like about me?” ask “How can I do better?” The first question is basically asking a person how they feel about you, which if you think about it is irrelevant for enabling you to be better.

Unsolicited feedback – Every once in a while we get feedback which we did not ask for, but that truly opens our eyes to how the world sees us. These experiences can be painful and uncomfortable; however, they often reveal how the world actually sees us and can motivate us to change. There is a disconnect between the way we see ourselves and the way the world sees us. Often those around us have a more accurate perspective.

Observational feedback – People and situations are giving us feedback all day long but whether we pay attention or act on it is another matter. People are sending us feedback through their eye contact, body language, and response time. It is up to us to observe these moments, accept them, and act on them. Here are five ways Goldsmith gave for observational feedback to be used:

  1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. At the end of the day rate each of them as positive or negative and see if any patterns emerge.
  2. Turn the sound off. In a meeting or interaction, pretend you’re watching a movie with the sound off. Concentrate only on how people present themselves physically.
  3. Complete the sentence. Pick something you want to get better at and list the benefits for you and those around you if you accomplish it. For example, if you want to take better care of your body and eat better you will…live longer, feel better, set a better example for your family, etc. As the benefits become more personal and less expected, that’s when you know you have hit on something that you need to fix.
  4. Listen to your self-aggrandizing remarks. We all have heard friends boast about some quality they think they possess when in reality the opposite is true. A friend may claim they are always on time, when the truth is they are always late. What do you boast about? Observe yourself and you may find out that a strength you claim is actually a weakness.
  5. Look homeward. If you want to change certain interpersonal behavior, it is good to get feedback from your colleagues. However, if you don’t believe them, take the same questions for feedback home and see what your family thinks. This will ensure feedback from those who truly want you to succeed and have no agenda.

I am very thankful I found this book on my shelf at home and took the time to read it. I learned a lot about changing behavior, common behavioral habits that many of us need to break, and how to get feedback. I hope you can also get some value from my three takeaways.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

This book gives very practical and helpful ways to fight against the worry and anxiety that tends to creep into life. The information is well organized and each chapter ends with a rule that summarizes the entire chapter in one sentence. I found this extremely helpful to aid in remembering the ideas from the book. In the past I have read and thoroughly enjoyed How to Win Friends & Influence People, another book written by Dale Carnegie, and this book was not a disappointment. I was just surprised I had never heard of it and had to rely on Amazon’s suggestion based on other books I have ordered or viewed to make me aware of it. Here are a few of the helpful ideas I got from the book.

  1. The Anti-Worry Technique

In the book Carnegie provides a 3 step anti-worry technique that I have been using against my own worries and stresses and find very effective.

  1. The first step is to analyze your worry or anxiety honestly and reduce it down to the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen?
  2. Once you have determined the worst that could happen, reconcile yourself to accept the worst, if you needed to. Could you keep going on in life if the worst outcome came true?
  3. After you have figured out the worst that could happen and reconciled in your mind that you could accept it if you needed to, spend your time and energy figuring out how to make the situation better. What is within your control to improve the situation?

I often sabotage my productivity and concentration by worrying and stewing over problems without actually addressing them appropriately. This 3 step technique has provided me with the framework to address my worries and anxieties in a helpful way.

  1. Act the way you want to feel

We often assume that our actions follow our feelings, however, it is actually the other way around. Our feelings follow our actions. This means we should act the way we want to feel.

Emerson said: “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

Marcus Aurelius said: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Norman Vincent said: “…you are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are.”

William James said: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

Personally it is far easier to believe that I am at the mercy of my feelings. This way I do not have to take responsibility for my actions when they are a result of my negative feelings. The truth is I am in control of my feelings because I can control my actions. I am in the process of learning that to feel joyful I must act joyful, even if I do not feel happy. The arena that we win or lose is in our thoughts. Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.

  1. How to stop worrying about criticism

When people criticize you remember it is often a compliment in disguise. Criticism from others means you are doing something worthy of attention. Human nature is to criticize those who are better educated or more successful than ourselves. As the saying goes ‘No one ever kicks a dead dog.’

Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized, anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Look at the facts, make a decision to do what you feel is right, and let the criticism roll right off you like water off of a ducks back.

Realize that everyone does foolish things now and again. Instead of stewing over these foolish things or arguing against them, learn from them. Often criticism has a kernel of truth. Instead of fighting against criticism, use it in whatever way you can to help you get better and thank your critic for their helpful feedback. As Eleanor Roosevelt also said, “Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The Talent Code

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The information in this book by Daniel Coyle was tremendously helpful to me. I anticipate this book will be on my list for the top books I read in 2018. Coyle writes a lot about talent, where it comes from, how a membrane called myelin plays a role, and how anyone can build talent if they understand how it works. As I read the book I discovered multiple ways for me to apply the concepts immediately. Something I have learned is that we do not change by thinking about change but by action, and so I always appreciate books that have ideas that are easily applicable.

Here are some of the main thoughts I found helpful:

  • To build talent you have to enter into what is called deep practice. Deep practice happens when you struggle at the edge of your abilities, make mistakes, and correct them. It requires you to slow down and address your mistakes rather than glossing over them.
  • Our memory is less like a tape recorder and more like an infinite scaffold. The more our brain fires certain circuits, the more obstacles and difficulties we face and overcome, the more scaffold we build. The more scaffold we build, the faster and easier we learn.
  • The sweet spot is where you find the “…optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do.”
  • The myelin revolution:
    • Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons – a circuit of nerve fibers.
    • Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy.
    • The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.

      “Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals.”

  • Myelin is a phospholipid membrane that wraps around nerve fibers.
  • Myelin fundamental principles:
    • The firing of circuits is paramount – myelin does not respond to ideas or feelings about doing something, it responds to action. Myelin responds to action that is repeated.
    • Myelin is universal – “one size fits all skill.” Myelin does not care what circuits are being fired. You could be firing your circuits for ball control in soccer practice or for holding your hands correctly to play the violin, myelin does not care. Myelin does not care who you are but what you do.
    • Myelin wraps – it doesn’t unwrap – once you insulate a skill with myelin, you cannot un-insulate. Habits are hard to break because you cannot really break a habit but have to change them by repeating different behaviors.
    • Age matters – your ability to build myelin around skill decreases the older you get. This is why many world-class experts started so young.

      The theory of skill: deep practice x 10,000 hours = world-class skill

  • Although talent appears to be predestined, we have a lot more control than we imagine over what skills we develop. We have a lot more potential than we imagine but it can only be unlocked through deep practice.
  • The three rules of deep practice: Chunk it up, repeat it, and learn to feel it.

One of the things I came to realize while reading this book is the amount of passion you have to have to engage in the deep practice. This passion is necessary to become world-class. The reality is that you cannot just spend lots of time doing something but you have to spend effortful time on the edge of your abilities, which is uncomfortable. I have started to ask myself some questions. What are the things that I am passionate about? What are the circuits that I want to strengthen and myelinate? Are there any changes that I need to make in how I use my time? Are there things I need to stop, start, or continue doing? I often struggle believing that I have enough time to devote to the things that excite me but the truth is I have time for what I schedule. World-class athletes, musicians, actors, and writers have the same amount of time in their day as me. The difference between us is what we choose to do with that time. Am I using my time to pursue what I am passionate about and will help those around me in some way or am I wasting my time? I would love to answer that I always use my time wisely but the truth is I sometimes waste it. This book has helped remind me how important it is to be wise with my time.

This book has also helped me in regards to my profession. As an engineer I often have to learn steps to a process or calculation. One of the joys and an area to grow as I advance in my career is getting to train and teach newer engineers the same steps and processes. Like most jobs, we always have deadlines and clients who are waiting for our recommendations, so time is always a factor. When it comes to training a newer engineer in this setting there is a potential for frustration. When I teach a new engineer a calculation but the first or second time they try it and they make a mistake, it is easy to gloss over it and correct it myself without spending time with that engineer to make sure they understand the concept they are missing. I am learning to apply what Coyle wrote about in regards to deep practice which is to slow down and address the mistakes to ensure that the correct circuits are being reinforced. I try to think of the time spent as an investment into the engineer to help them be better in the long-run. There is more to life than meeting deadlines and I want to have a positive impact on those around me. I am constantly fighting against the curse of knowledge. The more I know about a subject the harder it is to imagine what it is like to not know. I have to remember that there was a time in the past that I did not know or understand how to perform this particular calculation and need to be gracious. Also, I heard someone say that teaching something enables you to learn something twice. You learn it once on your own and a second time when you teach it. I need to see this as beneficial because the act of teaching and coaching is reinforcing the circuits in my brain and helping me insulate them with myelin.

While reading this book I found it easier to focus on how to myelinate interests and passions I already have such as reading, engineering, and writing this blog. However, just as important is thinking about what habits and thought patterns have been firing the wrong circuits too often, giving them too much power. One that I landed on is worry and anxiety. The list of things to be anxious about is long and probably varies from person to person, however, there are probably some common items on the list like finances, social issues, and health. I have been trying to implement a particular routine in the morning that helps start my day and get my thoughts going in the right direction, however, I have found that worry often derails me. I have the habit, like most people in this day and age, of looking at my text messages and emails as soon as I receive them. Many times this habit has removed my mind from my peaceful morning routine of reading and meditation to worry and anxiety. I am coming to realize just like practicing chess or repeating a golf swing, by letting myself get caught up in worry at the same time and with the same triggers every day, I am insulating the circuits for worry and anxiety. I cannot blame this on anyone and need to take responsibility and begin to build new habits. One of the simple steps I have taken to avoid this habit during my morning routine is to place my phone in a place where I cannot see it or hear it. If I am going to be using my computer to write or play music, I make sure not to open my email. I know I do not have enough discipline to see an email enter my inbox or see a text message alert on my phone and not check it out. It can wait. I am still in the process of changing this habit but I am grateful for this book to reveal this to me.

In this book Coyle writes a lot about skill & talent, how to develop it, what role myelin plays, and much more than a blog post can do justice. I enjoyed this book so much it will likely be on my list for the top books I read in 2018. A big reason I enjoyed it so much is because of how much I could apply to my own life. I would recommend this book to anyone.

Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

My church has a code or set of values that we seek to understand and apply in our lives. The eighth value is “We eat the fish and leave the bones.” I found myself applying this principal as I read this book. Just because someone has published books, has done a lot of research, has an extensive amount of knowledge, and has delivered content which is true, does not mean that I need to apply everything they teach. This was the case as I read this book by Robert Greene The 48 Laws of Power. Although I thought all of the history and stories he provides in the book are very interesting, I cannot apply all of the laws to my own life because some of them go against the values that I hold as most important.

In the preface of the book Greene makes a very good point as to why it would be worthwhile for anyone to read this book. “Power is a social game. To learn and master it, you must develop the ability to study and understand people… An understanding of people’s hidden motives is the single greatest piece of knowledge you can have in acquiring power.” Although I may not be willing to make use of all of these laws personally, I can definitely use them to understand what may be driving those around me. I can use these laws to recognize deception and manipulation in those I encounter, even if I am unwilling to practice those same laws. I can use and apply what I find to be helpful and leave the rest.

Law number nine I found to be especially helpful. I may write another blog post about some of the other laws but for now wanted to focus on law nine. Law nine is “Win through your actions, never through argument.” Here are some of the main points from this law:

  • “It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.”
  • Everyone believes that they are right and arguments rarely change another person’s mind. Arguments only make others feel insecure and inferior in what they believe. “Learn to demonstrate the correctness of your ideas indirectly.”
  • When you win through your actions you display power because you can prove your point without offending others.
  • In an argument you may communicate something completely unintended. People will interpret what you say based on their own feelings and insecurities.
  • “When aiming for power, or trying to conserve it, always look for the indirect route. And also choose your battles carefully. If it does not matter in the long run whether the other person agrees with you – or if time and their own experience will make them understand what you mean – then it is best not even to bother with a demonstration. Save you energy and walk away.”

This law also agrees with an idea from one of my favorite books How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I recommend this book all the time and actually have the audiobook on my phone so that I can listen to it whenever I want. In the section called How to win people to your way of thinking, Carnegie makes similar points to those made by Greene. For Carnegie the way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it completely. One of the quotes from Carnegie’s book which I particularly appreciate is “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” The problem with an argument is that if I hurt someone’s feelings or pride it is very difficult to maintain their goodwill. Since leadership and success have a lot to do with influence, keeping a person’s goodwill toward you is very important. I will not have much influence over someone who harbors negative feelings because of how I have made them feel in the past. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Another realization I have had about arguments has to do with how they make me feel. I often get into arguments at work where I feel that my position is very logical and makes sense. However, when the other person criticizes my position and does not see my logic, I can easily get frustrated. This frustration often contributes to me letting my emotions get the best of me. It can take me lots of time after an argument to “cool down.” This time is wasted. I am not able to be efficient and productive as I stew over the point that I was trying to make. How can someone hold an opposing view? Don’t they see the logic of my perspective? How can they ignore my justification? Continuing to think about an argument and these questions does not really help me progress. In fact, if anything, this habit holds me back.

As I have learned about how arguments make people feel, it has helped me work on changing myself. I want to learn to avoid arguments more often, to let things go, and perhaps most importantly not be so defensive and sensitive. As Greene’s law points out, it is always better to show others the truth of your perspective rather than argue with them. Although I have a long way to go in regards to this law, I am very happy to be moving in the right direction.

Outliers

I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I have to say the book was not what I expected, but not in a negative way. I was expecting a book that would describe how and why successful people have become successful, which Gladwell did, however, he came at it from a completely new perspective than I was expecting. I suppose if I had taken the time to read the first sentence of the synopsis on the back a little more carefully I would have had a clue, “In understanding successful people, we have come to focus far too much on their intelligence and ambition and personality traits. Instead, Malcolm Gladwell argues in Outliers, we should look at the world that surrounds the successful…” I think this is true. I was expecting Gladwell to discuss intelligence, ambition, and personality as it relates to success but the stories and data he shared were very new and refreshing. I highly recommend reading this book. In fact, I have already begun to add some of Gladwell’s other books to my reading list.

Here are some of the main points & quotes that I took away:

  • Success can be attributed to “accumulative advantage.” Any slight edge that someone has may lead to an opportunity which helps them get a little better than others. That additional edge leads to another opportunity, and the cycle continues.
  • “Achievement is talent plus preparation.”
  • It takes about 10 years which equates to 10,000 hours of hard practice to reach greatness at something. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”
  • “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
  • It is easy to believe success results from a person’s talent or skill alone; however, when you look at stories like those of the Beatles, Bill Joy, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, you see that their success had a lot to do with the world they grew up in. There were opportunities that were put in front of them and that they seized.
  • Beyond a certain IQ, around 120, a higher IQ does not really equate to a legitimate advantage in the world.
  • Satisfying work has to have 3 qualities: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.
  • Behavioral & emotional patterns are passed down through social inheritance.
  • “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard…” Success comes to those who do not give up so quickly but try to make sense of things.
  • “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
  • “We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth.”

One of the stories that Gladwell discusses in the book is how Joe Flom, who is the only living “named” partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom law firm, became so successful. At the time Flom graduated university in the 1940’s and 1950’s the law firms acted like private clubs. Due to this if a lawyer had the right family connections, the right experience, or the right personality he could get a good job. Since Joe Flom had a Jewish heritage and was “short and ungainly” he was not able to land a job at a major law firm. Instead he and some friends started their own law firm and took in the least desirable work at the time which was doing litigations and take overs. However, between the 1970s to the 1980s, lots of money was spent on mergers and acquisitions. Now suddenly the type of work Flom and his colleagues had been specializing in for around 20 years was very lucrative. Flom’s law firm had a head start, a competitive advantage, and was able to become very successful. Flom is an outlier because he was born at the right time and had the right ethnicity; he had the opportunity to begin practicing very early on the type of law which became very lucrative.

Another very interesting discussion in the book is about the “culture of honor” and family feuds that occurred in the south from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century. Gladwell specifically recounts the Howard-Turner feud in Harlan, Kentucky. What I found particularly interesting is why this “culture of honor” exists. Gladwell reports that the consensus seems to be that cultures of honor occur in places where farming cannot be easily done. Instead the people turn to herding sheep or goats. Farmers need to cooperate with each other in the community to succeed. On the other hand, herdsmen spend most of their time alone. Herdsmen learn to be aggressive and willing to fight in order to protect their animals, whereas it is a lot harder for a farmer’s crop to be stolen. Due to these factors this type of culture has been cultivated in the south. The experiments that were of great interest to me were the ones that showed how, in general, the southerners in the experiments conducted tended to be much more volatile and likely to explode in anger than the northerners. This propensity seems to be passed down through the generations through social inheritance the same way accents are passed down.

The application of Gladwell’s content in my life has come in the form of being grateful for the opportunities I have had so far in my life. It is often easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that I am a self-made man. It is easy to believe the things I have accomplished are solely due to my own aptitude. I forget about all the sacrifices that have been made by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to allow me to be where I am today. I am standing in someone else’s sacrifice. I do not need to apologize for this but I need to recognize it. My parents have often told me growing up that they just wanted me to go further than they have. The sacrifices they have made for me and the training they have given to me has all been to help me go further. Isaac Newton is attributed with saying “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” I recognize that I have been given great opportunities in my life and I am determined to continue seeking success and being a positive influence on those around me by standing on sacrifices and principles that my parents have passed on to me.

Proactive not Reactive

One of the most impactful books I read in 2017 was Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s development & explanation of Habit 1: Be Proactive was worth way more than the price I paid for the book, which happened to be $0.99 at Goodwill. The difference between being proactive and reactive is an idea I wanted to spend an entire blog post on. That is the intent of this post. However, for those who have not read the book or need a refresher, here are the 7 habits:

Habit 1 Be Proactive

Habit 2 Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3 Put First Things First

Habit 4 Think Win/Win

Habit 5 Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Habit 6 Synergize

Habit 7 Sharpen the Saw

Here is how Covey defined the word proactive. “It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” Covey then goes on to dissect the word responsibility – “…the ability to choose your response.” Covey admits in the book how hard it can be to accept these ideas on an emotional level since many of us, myself included, have explained our behavior away due to external factors. The truth is we have far more control in our lives than we pretend we do. Victimizing myself is always the easiest way to justify my behavior but it is never the path to growth.

I have found applying this principle at work and in my relationships is challenging but very effective. I findthat I am often a reactive person. I allow my emotions to be controlled by my environment, the behavior of others, or the circumstances that I find myself in. If a group of co-workers and I go out to eat and I suggest the restaurant but find that one of them does not like it and criticizes it, I feel like they are criticizing me. I am allowing that person’s criticism to affect my mood. I then feel I have to defend the restaurant and by doing so I am defending myself. I must decide whether to let my co-workers criticism affect me or to let it go. If I head out the door on my day off from work with fun plans for the day but find my car battery is dead, it is easy for me to allow my circumstances to ruin my day. In that moment I must make the decision whether or not to let the dead battery destroy my day or to take it in stride and figureout how to salvage the rest of the day.

The key words here are “allow” and “decide.” It has been hard for me to come to terms with this, but it is true. Too often I decide and allow feelings, circumstances, conditions, and other people’s attitudes to govern my internal status. On the other hand, the proactive person is someone who is driven by strong internalized values. Proactive people have thought through the values they hold and choose to react based on those values. Here are some examples of values that I have thought through and have been seeking to apply in my own life:

  • Maintain a positive attitude. The man who wins is the man who thinks he can.
  • Have a growth mindset. My intelligence and abilities are not fixed. I accept feedback to improve myself. I crave feedback.
  • Believe the best about people and put them first.
  • Accept responsibility. Look out the window to applaud success and in the mirror to accept responsibility for failure.
  • Everyone I meet is my superior in some way. Learn that from them.

Everyday as part of my morning ritual I read these statements as well as others in order to remind myself of my values. I have found this to be very effective in reminding myself what I stand for. The truth is that although I value responsibility, putting others first, and hearing feedback, because of my reactive nature I often do not live each moment as if these are values that I hold. The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote in Romans 15:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” By reminding myself daily of my values I make use of the concept of accessibility that says that the information you use often is easier to recall. This habit equips me to remember my values when I need them most and I am tempted to be reactive.

Circle-of-influence-and-concern

Another concept that Covey discusses in relation to proactive and reactive tendencies is the difference between our Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. This concept has been very helpful for me to understand how to best focus my time, energy, and thoughts. There are many things that each of us as individuals are concerned about like our health, our parents, our spouses, politics, poverty overseas, etc. As you look at these things you could draw a circle, which encompasses these concerns, and call it your Circle of Concern. Once you start to look at the things in your Circle of Concern you begin the realize that there are some things you have no real control over but other things you can take some action on. You could draw an inner circle around the things you can control and call it your Circle of Influence. Proactive people focus their time and effort on things within their control and enlarge their Circle of Influence. Reactive people, on the other hand, focus on what other people think, other people’s weaknesses, the problems they see around them, and many other things they have no control over. This focus results in blaming and victimization and leads to shrinking their Circle of Influence.

It is up to each of us whether we want to be proactive or reactive people. I find it very easy and convenient to blame and accuse other people and circumstances for the problems I face, however, I am trying to cultivate a growth mindset. I hope to develop into someone who does not immediately blame or accuse when faced with a problem but focuses on things that I can actually control. I want to be more proactive.

The Happiness Project

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after hearing about the book while listening to a podcast in the car on a trip with my wife recently. If you would like the 1-minute distillation, below are the main takeaways in bullet form:

  • We all have an inborn disposition that sets us within a happiness range, however, through our actions we can push ourselves to the top or the bottom of the range.
  • You will succeed at meeting your goals if they are concrete, measurable, and you have both accountability and some sort of reward.
  • The concept of accessibility means that information you use often is easier to recall. If you remind yourself often of your goals it is more likely you will keep them.
  • I incorrectly assume I act the way I feel. The truth is I feel a certain way because of the way I act. I must learn to act the way I want to feel.
  • It does not matter what you feel inside. People only see your actions.
  • You have to find what is fun for you. Just because an activity is fun for someone else does not mean you will or should enjoy it. Accept what you enjoy doing and don’t devalue it compared to what others like doing.
  • Keep a Resolutions Chart to track how well you follow through with your resolutions. You have to follow through to see change happen otherwise your resolution has no significance.
  • Goals and Resolutions are different. You meet a goal but continue to keep resolutions indefinitely.

If you read this book with the goal of finding out what will make you happy as an individual, you may be disappointed. Rubin is pretty clear about this in the part at the beginning of the book called “A note to the reader.” I would bet the majority of readers do not read that part and may have missed it; nevertheless, she does call this a “project.” The bottom line is that this is a book about her project, what she tried, and what she learned. If you or I were to try a similar project, the resolutions we would choose would likely be different than the ones she chose. Happiness is not a one size fits all sort of emotion and I believe that is for the best. All of that being said, it is still very interesting and encouraging to read about all the resolutions she made to maker her life happier. I certainly gained enough insight from this book that I would recommend it to a friend.

One of my favorite ideas from the book is about acting how we want to feel. Rubin notes in her book “…one of the most helpful insights that I’d learned in my happiness research: although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act.” This also works in relation to our thoughts. We need to think about ourselves the way we want to feel. I once heard Craig Groeschel, one of my favorite pastors, say, “Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” I think this is true. When I am at work and I begin to get behind on my plan for the day, people seem to keep coming by to ask me questions and interrupt me, I begin to respond in frustration towards my co-workers, and I begin to think how lousy my day is going. At this point I have just decided for myself that my day will be bad.

When I feel frustrated, I act frustrated, and my day ends in frustration. However, what I should do is when I find myself feeling frustrated I should act calmly and choose to not allow frustration to rule my thoughts. It is far easier to believe that I have no control over the outcome of my day than to take ownership of my actions, my thoughts, and decide to have a good day. This is why one of my resolutions for 2018 is to read a personal mission statement each day. One of the statements on my list is to “maintain as positive attitude. The man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” I believe that by reading a personal mission statement each day I can equip myself to believe these things about myself and help my life move in the direction I want it to.

Another concept I found very helpful from the book was about making and keeping resolutions and goals. Part of Rubin’s project was to create a Resolution’s Chart where she documented her progress and success at keeping her resolutions. This chart was a good way to make sure she capitalized on the concept of accessibility which is the idea that the more we remind ourselves of our goals and resolutions, the easier it is to recall them and follow through with them. Although I have been doing something similar to this for many years, Rubin’s Resolution’s Chart helped me to apply this idea to other areas of my life.

I am an evangelical Christian and for years I have kept a daily Bible reading plan. The reading plan is a schedule that lists the date, the book of the bible, and the number of chapters to read each day. When I follow through with this plan each day, I am able to read the entire bible in a year. A small time investment each day makes a big difference over time. This sets the tone for my day. Since reading The Happiness Project I have applied this concept to my diet and to fitness as well. I now have a chart which shows the days of the week as the column headings and the resolutions read, exercise, and diet as the row headings. So if I meet all my resolutions in a day I get a RED! There is also something very satisfying about putting and X or check in a box and seeing lots of checked boxes at the end of the week. I keep this chart at the front of my daily planner so that I am reminded of my goals and resolutions each day.

One final idea that I found a lot of truth in is the idea that what is fun for someone else may not be fun for me, and vice versa. This may sound trivial on the surface but once I thought about it more deeply, I found that I do not always live by this in my own life. As Rubin described in her book, I tend to overrate the hobbies and passions that others have and underrate the things that I enjoy to do. One of her Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” I find this to be true. If I find myself with a free hour on a Saturday afternoon, more than likely I will sit down with a good book and read. I may also put on some running shoes and drive over to the greenway for a run. I definitely will not go out to my car, pop the hood, and “work on my car.” This is an activity that I have always found fascinating and wished that I enjoyed, but I do not. I may do this with a friend if it is something they enjoy doing, but it is not likely something I will do on my own. I am learning that I do not need to convince myself that reading or working on my car is a better hobby or passion. I just need to experiment and find out what my passions are and stick with them.

Overall I found this book fairly helpful and applicable, even though many of the resolutions are not ones I would make myself. Rubin has obviously read a lot and uses a lot of quotes in her book, which I find enriches her content. Her writing is also pretty humorous so if you decide to read the book you will likely find yourself laughing out loud. Rubin also makes up lots of words or phrases throughout the book, which fit as definitions for situations and ideas in her life that we can all relate to. Here are just a few examples: boomerang errands, fog happiness, challenging fun, accommodating fun, relaxing fun, satisficer, and maximize. I think we would all do well to start our own happiness projects.