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.
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”.
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”.
I drove by a billboard for a local college the other day with the headline Define Yourself. It got me thinking.
Define yourself is about who you want to be. There is no doubt that we live in a world of image and branding — personal and product. Some might call this our social self. I do this myself. I recall an early retirement activity to design a personal business card: a title, logo and phrase that helped form an identity.
We choose to be different people in different circumstances, e.g. we might choose a more assertive behavior at work than at home, or with a salesperson rather than a family member. We choose to become what our various roles require; personal growth forces us to move beyond our comfort zone. My concern is that we can lose ourselves and when we do fundamental stresses emerges.
Know yourself is about who you are at your core. This includes strengths, values, beliefs, and desires. Some might call this our true self or our soul. I believe that knowing yourself is the more powerful and essential context. Consistency across defining and knowing leads to joy, energy and potential. Our values must be operative in all situations to thrive.
The path to Purpose starts with knowing yourself deeply. I hope the identity you choose for any given role recognizes and includes this deeper level. It is worth the introspection to create this alignment.
Purposeful mentoring requires the development of caring yet influential relationships. The influential part is about creating a receptivity on the part of the mentee to listen and adopt a growth attitude not about pushing your viewpoint. This only occurs when a foundation of care, trust and respect is built. We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves.
Here are some skills mentors need to establish these relationships.
- Ask Good Open-Ended Questions. Closed questions end with a “yes or no”. Open-ended questions, especially tough ones, require deeper thought and provide the opportunity to explore points-of-view.
- Listen Actively. The listener makes sure the talker knows that the words AND meaning of the words are clear. The conversation is two-way and has some balance.
- Affirm. Find ways to say insightful, positive things and say these much more frequently (10:1) than offering criticism. This allows the mentee to truly see the good and worth in themselves.
- Constructive Criticism. The word “constructive” is key in that there must be a pathway to see how to do something differently.
- Role Model. Let the mentee see values in action. “Do as I do not just as I say.”
- Be Available. Show up as planned with a frequency that works for both and be fully “in the moment” when together.
While my thoughts have been directed on how a mentor influences a mentee, remember that relationships are two-way. It’s a matter of choice and attitude to personally learn too. Be flexible.