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?
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.
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.
We are bombarded with things that require our attention or action. How do you choose what to act on? How do you keep track of commitments and deadlines? Living to your potential requires a personal system to manage tasks.
Here’s how to get started:
- Make a list. You can do this in a physical planner, on paper or index cards or with software. I like the “to-do” apps because items are easily changeable and can be carried on your phone. Learn to “say no” so that some things never make it to the list.
- Categorize. Assign categories such as family, house and work. Keep only one list that combines work and home activities.
- Prioritize. The high priority actions should be consistent with your Goals and Purpose.
- Set due dates. Some tasks have obvious due dates, e.g. planning a birthday party or meeting a customer due date, others may be flexible and solely driven by you. Some tasks are recurring.
- Plan each day. Take five minutes each day to decide what needs your time and attention. I like to do this each evening so that I can immediately get started in the morning.
- Take action. You don’t have to be a slave to the list but accomplishing one (or more) important tasks each day can transform your life. Avoid procrastination.
There are many ways to do task management. Experiment and find the one that’s right for you, one that balances effectiveness and simplicity.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is temporarily stepping into their situation and attempting to think, feel and experience what another is feeling. It is related to but not the same as sympathy which is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Empathy can be learned. It starts with becoming mindful but is built on a curiosity to consider an alternate viewpoint. You listen and become available without needing to solve a problem. You suspend judgement. Comfort is offered. It can be a spiritual experience. Empathy is an essential life skill and habit.
As a parent, you may wonder “what is the crying baby feeling?” or “why is my teen moody?” It’s important as a volunteer and as a manager. It is an important skill in any role and a wonderful way to build closer relationships. Empathy is easier if you have a similar experience. I know what it’s like to lose a parent but not a child. I know what it’s like to be a dad but not a mom. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to better understand.
Empathy is one of those life skills that can change the world. Imagine stepping into the shoes of a migrant worker, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone from the other political party. Our judging mind tends to exclude others who are not like us. What if we shifted our mindset to one of understanding?
This blog was inspired by my recent reading of the book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric.
When writing on the topic of mentoring I am usually focused on its importance in helping other people. This blog focuses on what it can do for each of us…not to be selfish but to embrace that service is a two-way street. It is one of those foundational, but higher-level, life skills that we can use every day in any relationship.
To be a good mentor, you must learn essential life skills:
- Active listening and asking powerful open-ended questions.
- Empathy, putting yourself in another’s situation.
- Encouragement, leading to persistence and resilience.
- Affirmations, helping another see something good in themselves.
- Visioning, seeing and planning a bold future.
- Goal setting and action planning, getting something important done every day.
Mentors see life as a process of development. It starts with an orientation toward serving and supporting someone else. It emerges from an emotion of care or love. If you are a mentor then you have a “heart to serve”. I’m sure you want to be good at it. Try going deeper and thinking of it as an accumulation of skills, each of which is important in its own way. Once you learn them you can apply them in everyday situations toward those you care about.
Mentoring is about inspiration, care and support of another but it transforms us too at many levels…heart, mind, body and soul. It is a skill worth mastering to improve our own capacity for purpose and knowing ourselves deeply. Consider taking on a formal mentoring role because “we grow as we serve”.