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.
An important part of conversation and communication in general is the need to ask questions. This is a way to show the other person that you listen and that you care. The asking enables you to go deeper.
There is so much small talk in daily life. It is essential but not sufficient. How long can you talk about the sports scores or the weather? Deeper questions allow us to form deeper relationships and engage in life-long learning.
It is important to ask open-ended questions; those are ones that don’t have simple yes/no answers. Here are some examples of deep, open-ended questions. They are from the book, Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus.
- If you could invest the rest of your life and know you could change one thing in the world around you, what would it be? What led you to choose that?
- If you had unlimited resources and couldn’t fail, what would you set out to do?
- What are your most outstanding personality traits?
- Of all the roles you’ve been in, which ones were the best fit? Why?
- If you had a year to live, what would be most important to you to do and be in that time?”
- What makes your heart sing?
Asking questions is a sign of respect. If done well, the other person feels valued and the relationship grows. Try finding some new questions to routinely ask others instead of “what do you do for a living”.
The phrase “live to your potential”, is a motivating one for me. This can be said in different ways. A friend says, “live your best life”. Matthew Kelly, one of my favorite authors says, “become the best version of yourself”. Potential reflects abilities, growth and how our time is spent (or invested). It reflects what is and what can be.
We prevent ourselves from living (growing, contributing, serving) fully in different ways:
- Weakness is related to character. It is choosing to not live by certain values or having loose personal boundaries. Examples are procrastination or not being able to make a crucial decision. It may simply be focusing on short-term wants vs. long-term needs.
- Mistakes are accidents, maybe a decision from ignorance, lack of skill or focus. Luck can fit into this category; being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mistakes are a part of life. If we allow ourselves to learn from them they are only short-term setbacks.
- Malice is choosing ill will, getting revenge or choosing to hurt someone with words or deeds. Some might say that it is living by non-altruistic values.
Living to our potential is about putting our life plan into action. How do you choose to spend your 168 hours per week? How do you balance relaxation, fun, necessary or interesting activity and satisfying or meaningful work? Address the weakness, mistakes and malice in your life. Let your purpose, vision and goals guide you.
We all have desires, dreams, hopes or wishes. Do you know yours? We need to satisfy three levels:
- Needs to survive. This includes food, clothing, shelter and transportation.
- Needs to thrive. This is the part about knowing yourself deeply, the things that need to be in place to live to your purpose and potential. I would add belonging and love to this list. The key word is need.
- Other wants. This is everything else and includes “stuff” like material possessions, promotions and experiences.
Going deeper on the need to thrive, I want to offer “heart, mind, body and soul” as a context. Said differently, what are your emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs? We each have a unique mix of needs to satisfy to thrive.
Here are some examples:
- Heart. Being in a relationship and knowing that you are loved for who you are. Having an emotional connection with a friend or person in need. Feeling empathy and compassion.
- Mind. Learning something new. Goal setting and accomplishment. Solving problems for yourself or others.
- Body. Taking care of yourself to avoid illness or eating well to maintain high energy.
- Soul. Having a relationship with God. Having some personal time to enjoy what you love without the demands of daily life. Silence and time to reflect.
Don’t just fill up your time with activities; learn to thrive. Take a few minutes and capture your needs to thrive on paper. When you truly understand them, set goals and act to achieve them.