Archive for October, 2010

When all else fails follow the signs

October 29, 2010


The signs may not always be clear

The next time you’re contemplating which path to follow, pay attention to the source of your motivation. Is it hunger for success, or determination not to fail? These might at first appear identical, but people motivated by ‘I must succeed’ achieve more than those motivated by ‘I must not fail’, and it’s more than just a matter of positive thinking. The target you set alters your behaviour.

Take the first group; the success-seekers. When performing a task and failing, they will only persist for a limited time before abandoning it. Unconcerned by failure, they instead pursue tasks where success is more certain, maximising opportunities for high achievement. Failure-avoiders, on the other hand, will persist. Determined to prove they can overcome failure, they instead expose themselves to it,  and often only achieve mediocre performance.

While persistence can certainly enhance performance, there is another success strategy: seeing through the disappointment of failure and spotting exactly where your opportunities for achievement lie. But on days when inspiration is lacking where do you begin to look?

Identifying activities that resonate or ‘feel right’ builds a personalised signpost that directs you to your most authentic areas of high performance and energy. People who use their intuition are happier, more confident and more likely to reach their goals.

A way to find out is to ask yourself ‘What would I do if I had enough money to last a lifetime. What work would I still want to do?’ What activities do you do where the time melts away and you feel inspired?

In this way, approaching success can be simple when you know how to look for the signs. Then take action by making your signified actions prominent; allocate time every day to pursue them, take a course or find a mentor that can help you. Perhaps you can start part time; if you’re lucky it may be what you’re doing now.

Remember that success is not just about your work. It may be a hobby, social work, playing sport or coaching your children’s team. It may earn money or simply provide satisfaction and contentment. For me it’s surfing, writing and restoring classic cars. As a result I enjoy my job more and come to work with energy and enthusiasm. Whatever your passion is, it will enrich your life and provide balance to the more mundane things that we all must do.

Look for the signs, trust your instinct and pursue a balanced life of satisfaction and happiness.


Failing – finding the path of acceptance

October 27, 2010


The path to acceptance

It’s OK to fail.


The modern edict of the relentless pursuit of excellence provides no relief, no possibility for dealing with the down side. And the down side come to us all; it arrives unannounced in varying levels of ferocity, attacking the very substance of our being.

When life doesn’t work out how we had hoped we can be scathing in our self criticism and engulfed with an often overwhelming feeling of failure. If this failure occurs in our personal lives we can usually add a debilitating dose of guilt to the equation. Everything looks black, especially the future. The more emotional capital we had invested the harder the failure hits us.

Traditional ‘self help and success’ teachings remind us that failure is only a learning curve; we only truly fail if we give up. Success is reassessing and trying again.

However, this approach ignores the emotional impact of missing the mark and provides no advice on dealing with failure, stress and the disappointment of not succeeding on something of intense personal importance. Whether a failed business, lost investment, or soured relationship; life dishes up many reasons to feel like a failure.

Bouncing back can be difficult when the glittering chandelier of your life lies at your feet in shattered shards of glass just waiting to slice you to the bone.  The inevitable post mortem involves a lot of ‘should haves, could haves, and why didn’t I’ moments.

We look back and see all the things we should have done. We look forward to all the things we need to do. And then we look at where we are.

Looking at where we are often involves a withering comparison and evaluation. How am I doing compared to others? How am I doing compared to where I should be right now? Is meaningful progress even possible? Will I ever be like the others who have achieved their goals? What’s wrong with me?

Flexibility and the ability to view life events from multiple perspectives is just not part of the equation at this point. Don’t think for a moment that you’re alone with feelings of disappointment, self doubt and a reluctance to open yourself again to facing your hopes, dreams and failures. The self-help gurus don’t cover that part in the success literature.

The success stories and biographies out there in the market speak of overcoming adversary, a steely determination to succeed and accept the challenge. They tell us that we can be absolutely, positively anything we want to be. We must operate in a peak state, taking massive action regardless of the outcome.

Funny, but when I read that, I feel like hiding under a blanket and sleeping for a week. My peak state gets replaced by a weak state. Life feels like a high impact sport. And, like all impact activities, we get tired and collapse. Our accomplishments are never quite enough. Previous successes lie completely obscured.  

Can I make it back?

The starting point is acceptance. So things haven’t worked out. OK, you can’t change that, but what can you change? Can you recalibrate your mind and apply your efforts in a different direction so you can get new results? Different results? Better results? Equally, is it better to park it for a while until you have rebuilt your emotional stockpile?

Getting straight back on the horse is not always useful at first. Feeling the pressure to do so even less so.  Sometimes that horse has already bolted. Comparisons to others aren’t helpful. Speak to people who see the possibilities in you that you can’t presently see in yourself.

Acceptance is the birthplace of possibility. A place where the fog of disappointment can clear enough for you to see a way forward.

There is as much gained living in a moment of defeat as in a moment of success. So rest a while. Take the time today, and tomorrow, there won’t be as much baggage to unpack. You can then continue confident that you have the ability to see both opportunity and possibility together.

Perhaps you can appreciate the smallest steps of achievement? And when moment seems right you’ll continue your journey with a light heart and excited optimism for the future.

Playing to your strengths

October 22, 2010

Where are your hidden strengths?

As I read and discuss the topic of personal development and success I come across a recurring theme for those seeking success and fulfilment. Simplistically, it’s to identify your strengths and focus on those traits, while excluding actions that you don’t do well. Pass these tasks onto someone else so your focus is on the most productive and powerful aspects of your life.

Sounds logical: focus on what you’re good at and avoid what you’re not. But what happens when life doesn’t turn out as you planned? What then?

The idea is that when we identify and apply our personal strengths the results will lead to happiness and a greater possibility of success. This leads us to believe our strengths are equally applicable to every circumstance.

We know that circumstances often test us and our ability to adapt. If we maintain a ‘what I do well’ (strengths) strategy what happens if we fail? Do we then assume our identified strengths are not very good after all? Does this then reflect on us as an individual?

Perhaps a better strategy is to view our strengths more like growth opportunities that can be improved through effort. This allows for the satisfaction that comes from achieving personal growth and the ability to change our approach to suit the situation.

When things don’t work out as planned we feel the disappointment of failure far more when working in areas of ‘strength’ than when working on areas of development. The first leads to a sharp feeling of failure that reflects on us as a person (I’m a failure and I’m giving up) rather than the situation (It didn’t work out this time but I’m getting better with each attempt).

If we view our strengths as key areas for growth, then occasionally falling short will feel less like personal failure than if we’ve internalised these strengths as our basic personality traits.

If we only ever played to our strengths and succeeded, we would achieve the same results every time. Now, this might be great … consistent success … or it might be boring, because you wouldn’t be growing, you wouldn’t be challenged.

Whether in sport, the arts, business or life, the best performers are constantly looking for the edge, that additional level of performance that allows them to grow and do better. To beat their time, produce an even more beautiful work, to grow and feel the satisfaction of achievement.

It’s important to adopt a flexible approach to our strengths; no matter how naturally they come to us or how good we are, there’s still room for improvement.

Living with an attitude of ‘I must grow to succeed’ will bring far more satisfaction and a willingness to try new things than an ‘I must not fail’ mentality. After all, how much can we truly achieve in life if we’re not prepared to accept some level of failure as a key ingredient to personal growth and an interesting life?

Television – The sequel

October 15, 2010

You want it, you need it, you will buy it now!

In my last post you may have noticed that ads annoy me and as promised I’m delving into the depths of what’s really going on.

Television is more powerful than our personal experiences in creating our shared view of reality and social identity, and for promoting the feeling of lack in our lives that can be solved through possession and consumption.

It makes ‘didn’t think about it or need it’ into ‘must have and must have it now’. Ads tell you that you have a problem, then provide a solution, often showing an attractive smiling person receiving adulation from an adoring equally attractive peer group,

The profound consumerist bias of television creates serious problems for society. People use the consumption levels portrayed in TV advertising (or product placement in programs) to establish their sense of identity and measure their personal wellbeing, while those same levels of consumption lead to unhappiness, debt and continually accelerate the use of resources until we consume the planet to death.

It’s not just the individual product being advertised, it’s the promotion of the attitudes, values and lifestyles that glorifies consumption. Go on, you deserve it. No place for those concerned with the quality of being rather than the quantity of having. The constant bombardment sends strong messages about the standards of living and behaviour that are the norm for the ‘ideal’ society.

When we watch commercial television we put our values, attitudes and priorities up for sale. Programming will not show the alternatives for sustainable living as this would threaten the hegemony of mass entertainment, mass advertising and mass consumption.

Taking the trivial concerns of life and blowing them into issues of major importance is counterintuitive to what most people seek. Instead of the realities of making it through a time of serious etc. … we’re repeatedly force-fed inflated issues of total insignificance

As a reformed ‘super consumer’ I realised that this was not the way to happiness. The more I had the unhappier I became and the more I wanted: a vicious doom loop. Continue to watch and enjoy television (you can put that brick down now) but be consciously aware of the message blitzkrieg and exercise choice and free will, be careful what impact it has on you and your children.

Television – Opiate of the masses?

October 8, 2010

What's on the box?

OK, I admit it. I enjoy watching television. Sports, news, movies and the occasional police drama. Whew, glad I got that dirty little secret out. Have you noticed when the topic of television comes up that many people will say ‘Oh the television is never on in our home’ or ‘We only watch the ABC news’.

Liar, liar pants on fire. OK, not to generalise, only about 95% of people are lying about how much television they watch. According to the ABS (2009):

99.7% of Australian homes have at least one television

68% of homes have two or more televisions

Watching TV is Australia’s most popular leisure activity

Australians watch on average 3 to 5 hours of television a day

There’s  lots of research that suggests watching television is bad for you but that’s not the purpose of this blog. Personally I hate much of the mindless programming – reality TV, half hour ‘situation’ comedies, game shows, sensationalist ‘magazine style’ shows masquerading as current affairs and news that only focuses on the negative. But that’s just me. These shows rate off the charts so somebody’s watching them.

TV is a great way to relax. It’s impossible to be ‘in the zone’ 24/7 so after a 12-hour day give yourself a break and allow yourself some downtime and a bit of escapism in a good movie or your favourite show.

Plonking down at 6.00 pm when you get home to smash through 4 or 5 hours of viewing every night certainly is not the go. Filling your head with images of murder and serial killers just before you go to bed can also make for some interesting dreams. Pick the shows that you want to watch and allow yourself the time to enjoy.

A good idea is to record the shows and watch them at a time when you can fast forward the ads. A digital recorder is relatively cheap and avoids what I consider to be the most destructive influence on TV – the ads:

–  Average ad break is now 8 to 10 commercials

– Some commercials are run twice in a ‘top and tail’ strategy

– Programs run 10 minutes over due to frequency of ad breaks

– We are bombarded with images and sounds that have an effect on us

That’s masses of useless information flying at you in a concentrated burst. In their attempt to break through the clutter of TV, marketers resort to mindless repetition and ridiculous claims.

Banks offering wonderful service that they don’t deliver on, special offers with hidden conditions, ads telling us that we’re too fat, missing out on life or that our houses are full of germs. Each message designed to elicit a response by making us feel bad about ourselves and our circumstances.

Forget world hunger, apparently the most pressing issue on the planet today is having fat, luscious lashes. I feel better now. Clearly there is a lot wrong with me but the solution is at hand for only $79.95! But wait, there’s more.

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I delve deeper into this issue. I may even wear a white coat so you know what I’m saying must be true … Y’all come back now.

If life doesn’t turn out as you hoped take a new path

October 4, 2010

Sometimes the wrong turn can be the right turn!

In the last post we discussed how the results of our lives may not always be what we had hoped for. This post we look at the alternativews and how it can work for you.

The solution

It’s important to nurture your sense of self while not being rigidly fixed to single outcome. If you are you may be disappointed your life hasn’t turned out as you hoped.

Just as clothes, haircuts and music tastes change from 20 to 40 so do our goals and dreams. Remaining rigid to outdated ideas is not a true reflection of who you are. I remember when a Saturday night at home signalled a monumental failure of my young life, now – it’s a pleasant and welcome respite.

My daughter Holly wanted to get into Law at university but despite her best efforts and dedication didn’t get the required entry score. She was devastated, her dream dashed. She had an interest in psychology and entered an arts course that leads to a psychological qualification with some additional study. She loves it and feels it’s exactly where she needs to be. She wants to help disadvantaged children through art therapy. This combines her love of art (she’s talented!) with a career in psychology that ‘feels right’. She’s now glad she didn’t get into law!

Holly now has the opportunity to combine her love of art with a fulfilling career, which is a great result. This isn’t going to be ‘work’ for her, she will have fun. She’s following her path and will be successful because she’s found where she is meant to be. What a brilliant outcome.

Life isn’t rigid, linear or unchanging. It’s a flowing, moving force that rushes around obstacles and seeks transition. Like water, it flows at great speed and finds its own level. The level can rise and fall with changes around it but its nature remains the same.

If we refuse to adjust to the torrent we may become stuck and emotionally drown. As with Holly, a willingness to try other things and to locate your true path makes for an interesting life.

Flexibility and multi streaming

If flexibility is a virtue for finding your path. The idea that you can be more than one thing at a time – such as a business person and an artist or to have wealth and be spiritual – frees your mind and becomes a source of inspiration and insight.

You will be criticised for following this path. Chasing multiple dreams may appear undisciplined and lacking in focus. You don’t need to conform to others’ opinions; their judgment is tempered from any perceived variation from the ‘accepted norm’. It requires strength of character and self belief to stay on your path when the world around you is herding you towards the safe majority.

Your life is already made up of distinct pieces – work, family, recreation, hobbies, health, spirituality and more.

If you have a business career and want to write novels, do you have to quit your job to pursue your passion? Of course not. You can work during the day, giving 100% effort and focus, and write in your free time. You can become a published author and keep your job if that’s what you choose to do. You may even end up with multiple income streams!

This is about focusing your energy on multiple interests. People will be critical because the dominant value in society is unity of thought and action. You don’t have to operate that way. I find writing to be a creative outlet that provides me with a sense of fulfilment and balances the pressures of running a company. And I enjoy both for different reasons. Who says I have to choose only one?

My passion for writing drives a passion for learning the craft. With the help of two talented writer friends I’m learning the lessons and honing my skills. The benefit for my business career is that I have become a far more articulate and focused communicator.

Very little in this world is mutually exclusive. Sporting interests make a great conversation point at a business meeting. A passion for health helps you stay focused longer and perform better at work. Restoring classic cars teaches patience and problem solving. Coaching your child’s sports team teaches people and organisational skills. The list is endless and you can choose more than one path. Life’s a rich tapestry and it’s never too late to start something new.

Running your own race

We live in a pragmatic world where people often value the predictable standards of success. They may actively dissuade you from your path toward more practical goals. This is not done with malice; it comes from their personal belief system. In this common eventuality you need to keep your focus on what important to you.

 Allow them their opinion and don’t feel the need to convert them. They are on a different path.

So when life doesn’t turn out exactly how you planned it can you accept the change in course and allow yourself to live a life that fuels your passion and leads to enlightenment. This just may be your life’s purpose after all.