Thoughts pop into our head all day long. Some come and go and others linger. Some make us happy and others accumulate into unnecessary stress. Thoughts get compared to beliefs and might turn into emotions. These emotions can work for us or against us…toward our vision and goals or away. It can unfold in seconds or linger for days. Let’s look at the process.
- Thoughts. A thought pops into our head. We are not fully mindful.
- Beliefs. These thoughts get compared to intrinsic beliefs. These beliefs are “truth” for us but not necessarily everyone else because we tell ourselves “stories”.
- Emotions. Emotions instantaneously emerge from these thoughts and beliefs. Some accumulate into unhealthy stress.
- Actions. Finally, we choose to react or respond. Reacting is what we do without thinking and sometimes gets us into trouble. It’s usually better to take a deep breath and respond with your mind engaged.
Here is an example. You agree to host the holiday dinner for the extended family for the first time. Your thoughts go to planning…what to buy and where to sit. You believe (hope, pray) that it is an event that should go without incident. You want to show you can do it with excellence. Emotions emerge as things go slightly wrong…a drink spilled or a casserole burned. You say something (the action) that you later regret.
Pause for a moment to check what you are thinking. Don’t judge it; just acknowledge it. This begins the journey of mindfulness.
Living to our potential includes elements of attitude and aptitude. Put together, they help us soar to new heights in our personal or work lives. It starts with choices: positive thoughts, supportive relationships and new skills and abilities.
Attitude emerges from our thoughts and belief systems. Ideally, it is the positive belief that you can do something and even the thought that you should do something rather than procrastinating. It is also the belief that others are trying their best too. It is the spark of motivation, often hidden from our conscious thought. It can be fueled by a clear personal Vision and related Goals. It can be lost in a moment of despair or crisis.
Aptitude is related to skills and abilities and includes ongoing growth-seeking learning and experiences. There is a desire to get better at something, even master it. You must choose where to focus growth. It may be in managing relationships, leadership or a technical skill. Let your passion guide you.
Both are important, but I have a belief bias that attitude is THE essential ingredient in life and career. Belief in yourself is powerful. Internally, it takes some significant experiences to develop this confidence and belief. Externally, it helps to receive encouragement from others, to have family, friends and managers that believe in you and make an “investment” in you.
Altitude is the outcome and up to you…up, down or flat. What new heights do you seek? Are you in touch with your attitude and aptitude?
There is something energizing about being a “senior”, that time of life beyond 60 years old. The kids have grown up and you may be an “empty nester”. You have accumulated incredible life skills. Your maturity and experience cause you to see life differently…with wisdom, patience and even a bit more humor.
Seniors are a valuable commodity to family and community. This talent and capacity must be nurtured individually and systemically. Individually, we must define a “retirement” in our own way. We must know that we are each priceless and not let our past be our only identity. Each of our 168 hours per week is lived uniquely, balancing time and attention choices across work, leisure, family and service. Do it deliberately by being clear on Purpose, Vision and Goals. Systemically, we need organizations to create meaningful roles that encourage use of all our talents and continue to develop them. Organizations also need to implement flexible schedules.
Express your creativity…in projects of any type. Keep learning and live to your full potential. Have courage to try new things. Form deeper or new relationships with family and friends. See the world and people with a new perspective. Remember the “good times” but provide future-focused leadership in your passion.
Choosing purposeful activities has been shown to enhance the quality and longevity of life. Our minds and bodies both need to be exercised to stay vibrant. Everybody deserves their day/week/month “on the beach” but I hope you also choose contribution and impact.
Affirmation (noun): the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed; emotional support or encouragement.
Like smiling, giving another person a positive affirmation is a simple yet significant gift. It goes something like this… I see this special talent/strength/value in you. It shows up in what you do and makes you a unique and wonderful person. The way you use this “specialness” is making a difference.
We all need affirmation at some time. People who are hurting regularly need it. All too often, they do not have caring people in their lives who nurture them. Strong positive words offer support and encouragement and they have a lasting effect. It’s a way to show we care and build a relationship.
Be specific; rather than saying “you are amazing”, try “your talent for cooking combined your ability to select food ingredients helps you bring people together in harmony over a special meal”. Emphasize behaviors and skills. An affirmation is an important mentoring skill. It is especially important because it helps another to “know themselves deeply”.
We Zapp when we give “positivity; we Sapp when we take away energy. Choose to say positive things to others 10x more than you criticize. It’s much more effective (and fun) in influencing behavior.
Affirmations can be personal as well (but is not my focus today). It’s the things we say or think to ourselves over and over. The idea is simply to change our beliefs.
“Whether You Think You Can or Can’t, You’re Right” – Henry Ford
We limit ourselves from living to our potential when we place arbitrary boundaries on what we can or can’t do. We say things like “we are not good enough to get promoted” or “I’m too old to learn to play the piano” (or acquire another skill) or “I won’t be a good _____”. We limit ourselves by living within the constraints of a perceived role description rather than taking the initiative to add a new responsibility or project.
Change is disruptive, uncomfortable and even stressful. Pushing personal boundaries is that way too. We offset limits with vision and dreaming. Vision should be bold.
It is our current beliefs about ourselves, others and situations that slow the transition. We must uncover these beliefs and challenge them. Ask if your beliefs are moving you toward your purpose and vision or if they are restraining you. Sometimes we need feedback to see the limiting belief.
My own “significant experience” in this area is recalling the feedback I received from one of my managers. I was told that I should spend more time “managing up” (engaging the next level above me). It was uncomfortable at first but then I got good at it and finally it changed my job performance. I carry this memory into my retirement career as a volunteer.
Where do you limit yourself? Why? Dream, think big, live a bold life…then take a small step every day.
Time management is an important skill but I’ve come to believe that attention management is the bigger opportunity (and challenge). We are blasted with attention options and choices all day long. We sometimes try multi-tasking but this is not effective in a human relationship. We need to be available attentively. How do we do this?
- Choose the relationships that are important and invest in them. Make time for the important people of our lives. Call rather than text, schedule a time for coffee, lunch or a beer or just drop by. Simply show up; this is how we demonstrate to them that they are important (rather than just thinking they are).
- Put away or turn off the distractions. Find a quiet place to be together. Turn off the TV or put away the cell phone. Find a babysitter for the kids.
- Suspend your own problems, just for a short while. Focus on the other person and look them in the eye. Choose empathy and love.
- Practice active listening. Focus on hearing the meaning of their words rather than the words themselves. Nod, paraphrase and ask questions to insure they know we heard their words and meaning.
Choose to intentionally single-task. Use your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your mind to think and your heart to feel. With all senses tuned-in we become focused at a new, deeper level. Be mindful of attention shifts and bring yourself back to your intended focus. Being available attentively requires practice.
I love Mathew Kelly’s writing on “everything is a choice”. He says that we need to learn to master the moment of decision and you will live a life uncommon. It’s an important concept to realize that we are where we are in life because of the choices we have made.
Choices have consequences. The choice to smoke cigarettes or eat fatty foods will likely shorten your life. The choice to not study at school will likely lead to lower grades and lifelong income (of course there are exceptions). The choice to have a child will change your lifestyle. The choice to not maintain your car will result in a shorter vehicle life. We make hundreds of decisions every single day, sometimes without thinking.
Daily problems (sometimes crises), regrets and missed opportunities are the consequences. We need to make the important decisions based on our purpose, vision and goals. This framework helps establish the priorities and boundaries of our lives. Courage and discipline are supporting character traits.
We must own our decision choice rather than blame others. We must think about the consequences to self, family, friends, projects and work results. We must think far enough ahead to understand the possible outcomes of a decision and their associated consequences. We should give more emphasis to long-term needs than short-term gratification.
If you want to change your life, start making different choices. It starts with mindfulness of our critical decisions and then “choosing to choose” rather than going with the flow of everyday life.