The Power of Character

The meaning of earthly existing lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

True leaders exhibit character.

Character is more than talk. You can never separate a leader’s character from their actions. Action is the true indicator of character.

Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.

We don’t choose where we were born, who are parents are, or the circumstances of our upbringing. But we do choose our character.

Each voluntary and conscious action we take shapes our character.

Character brings lasting success as a leader. As a leader, people must choose to follow you. As the old saying goes, if you think you’re leading, and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.

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Servant Leadership

Everyone is a leader, regardless of position or title.  Each and everyday we have opportunities to lead, to positively influence those around us.

Everyday leadership is servant leadership. All of us can serve others, and help others to grow, and in turn enrich our own life.

A servant leader incorporates powerful habits in their daily interactions to yield massive results.  Here are some thoughts on how to be a more effective servant leader:

1. Effective Listening: Do you understand exactly the needs of those you lead, and those you interact with?

2. Showing Appreciation: Focus your attention on what people do right. Tell them about it, both spontaneously and routinely.

3. Respect: Respect every individual you interact with.

4. Develop Others: Provide people with value.

5. Unleash: Everyone has incredible potential inside of them. An everyday leader helps others to see and unleash the value and potential that is within.

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Have you ever had an experience where you read or listened to an idea or concept that just seemed to make absolute sense to you?  Like you’ve always been aware of the concept, you’ve always accepted its truth, but you’ve never really had anyone articulate it, until now.

That is exactly how I felt when I read Flow  by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (former Chair of the Psychology department at the University of Chicago). The book, relying on significant empirical research conducted over the course of decades, describes the conditions that are present in an “optimal experience” setting, or in other words, the contributing factors that are present when a human being is at their most fulfilled state.

The conclusion was not revolutionary for me, quite the opposite.  In fact, it was an “of course, I always knew that, I’ve already experienced that” kind of moment for me.  The conclusion from the book was that “optimal experience” is not the result of wealth, significance, or any other form of status (although these may be byproducts of the actions leading to optimal experience), rather “optimal experience” is when an individual experiences a state of “flow”.  That is, a state of completely focused motivation, or single-minded immersion, where their mind and body are stretched to their absolute limits in a voluntary effort to achieve a difficult and worthwhile goal.

The times in my life that have been most rewarding (intrinsically) have been the moments when I was in “Flow”.  My mind and body were completely dedicated to a clearly defined goal.  I was immersed in the activity and time seemed to fly (or completely stand still) while in the immersion.  I have experienced Flow in various contexts in my life, both athletically, academically, in business, and in relationships.  Honestly, they were the best times in my life, and looking back it had nothing to do with the actual “achievement” of a goal.  The fact that I actually achieved the goal (or didn’t for that matter) didn’t matter because I felt so good about the “process” (of which I spent a significant time in a “Flow” like state).

With 2012 around the corner, and my eyes on reaffirming my short and long-term goals, I want to make sure that I fully incorporate the concept of “Flow”.  That is, I realize that it isn’t just the attainment that makes a goal so desirable, rather it is the process.  So it is important for me not just to set and strive for goals that are meaningful to me, but also to set up the game to win, that is, ensure that my path to attainment also leads to optimal experience.  I believe that this is what makes the difference in one’s life.

Read the book, it is fantastic.

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Are You Stuck in a Rut?

Great advice from Matt Cutts (Google Software Engineer) on how to get some momentum in life.

A 30 day challenge is a fantastic idea.  Your challenges are your own unique opportunities to create something new in your life.  It may be 30 days in creating a new empowering habit, overcoming a negative habit, learning a new skill set, or having an adventure and trying something completely new and out of your current comfort zone.  It may be a 30 day commitment to taking a certain pre-defined action that will bring you closer to your current goals.

The brilliant part is that there is no right answer. You are free to create and experiment, and the cost of failure is nothing. However the upside of your new world could be tremendous.  You may discover a passion or skill that you had no idea existed. You might pick up momentum that moves you closer to that big goal you’ve been chasing for years (but up until recently you felt you were drifting away from).  You might gain courage and realize that the fears that were holding you back in the past were really just in your head and aren’t real.

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The Hour of Power

Can you recall a time in your life when you felt like you could accomplish anything?  Where you felt absolute certainty and confidence?  When fear and insecurity no longer held you back?  Where were you?  What were you doing?  How did you feel?  If you are honest with yourself, would you want to return to that state again?

What if you could feel this way everyday?  How would your life be different?  What would you do if you didn’t feel fear anymore. Would you believe me if I said you could?  Most likely not – in fact, up until recently I wouldn’t have believed it myself.  Many people in the world would have you believe that feeling that alive, feeling that excited for the future is unnatural.  They would have you believe that we are reactionary beings -that our emotions are a function of the external events that are occurring around us.

Or maybe, as some people put it, “life just sucks”. Life is hard and is full of pain and letdowns.   So we look for fleeting moments of peace or satisfaction, coupled with lots entertainment and distraction.  We really don’t want to be hurt, or risk failure, because failure and hurt equals pain so we lower our standards for what we will accept emotionally in our lives.

There is a way however to condition your mind and your emotions so that every day you feel empowered, grateful, inspired, and alive.  The magic is that it is actually is a very simple exercise, and at most its takes only an hour a day (it can be shorter as well if you have time restrains).  The key is in the ritualized method of conditioning your mind, focus and emotions to be at their best.

I learned this technique from Tony Robbins, and it has honestly changed my life.  He calls it “The Hour of Power”.  The exercise involves utilizing three simple, but powerful concepts (Tony calls these the Triad):

  1. Controlled Focus: Directed focus on only the things that you want.  This is based on a belief that focus = feeling = life, and also where your focus goes your energy will flow.  Controlled focus can be like a laser beam, but as anyone who has engaged in meditation can attest, it is a skill which takes time and discipline to master.
  2. Physiology:  Emotion is created by motion.  Your emotional state is really controlled by what you do with your body.  How do you feel when you are in good shape, and consistently exercising?  It is as addictive as a drug.  Try this exercise if you don’t believe in the power of your physiology to control your emotional state – go stand in front of a mirror for 5 minutes with a big goofy smile and see how you feel at the end of the exercise.
  3. Language:  The words that we use on a consistent basis, the metaphors we evoke, and the self-directed questions that we engage in have a real impact on our emotions.  This component, for many of us, is the hardest to condition because we aren’t even conscious of the disempowering words, phrases or metaphors we are using.  However, they have a real impact on us.
Many people have read personal development books, or invested in tapes and seminars, to be momentarily inspired or engaged, but they find that, while the ideas seem great, they don’t really put them into action.  They don’t really see any changes to their life, despite reading the book.  They may even then suggest that “personal development books and seminars” are a waste of time and money.  But the reality is that they have done nothing, other than read the book.  The power in any technique, strategy or idea is not in the intellectual understanding, but rather in the subconscious mastery. I was recently reading an interview with MMA legend Royce Gracie who mentioned that the best fighters often don’t even think when in the heat of the battle.  They have practised the same moves, locks, positions so many times that their body goes into autopilot when adapting to a counter manoeuvre. They know that if their opponent acts in a certain way the best reaction is to do a certain action.  However they don’t have to consciously think about the counter action.  Their body just does it because they have conditioned their body so consistently.  That is where the power is.  When you own a concept so profoundly that you don’t even have to think, you just do.
So how do you get to mastery of a concept? It is through massive conditioning by consistent patterns of behaviour and habits.  This is the genius of the hour of power.  You use the Triad, multiple times a week (or daily if possible), to condition your mind, emotions and body to perform at its peak.
So if you wondering here is the Hour of Power (I do mine to a “soundtrack” of songs that fit each stage of the exercise):
  • Phase 1: Move and Breathe (5 minutes): Just start moving (walk, dance, whatever as long as you are moving) and do deep yoga breathing techniques (deep through nose into lower stomach).  Taps fingers (energy points) while you are doing this.
  • Phase 2: Exercise and Incantations (45 minutes):  Hard cardio or muscle building exercise to fast music while I state empowering incantations (sayings that I want to work into my subconscious).  For example – here are a couple of sayings that I use: “I will find a way or I will make one”, “Day by Day I’m feeling stronger”, “I feel alive”, “Step up”, “All I need is within me now”.  There are many more, but basically I am programming my mind by using language to influence my subconscious.
  • Phase 3: Intense Gratitude (10 minutes): In this phase I use three songs.  To the first song (Supertramp – Give a Little Bit)  I vividly visualize everything in my life that I am grateful for (everything good that has happened in the past).  To the second song (You Can Make the Pathway Bright – Mormon Tabernacle Choir) I visualize the successful accomplishment of my long term goals (who I want to become, what I want to do) and then I feel gratitude for accomplishing them.  Then, for the last song (Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole), I visualize the successful accomplishment of my short term goals and then feel gratitude for accomplishing them.
This exercise has had a profound effect on me.  I challenge anyone who feels like their life is lacking some meaning, or passion or juice, to just try it for a month straight.  You will be amazed with the results and how you feel.  I’d love to hear some of your stories about the process as well.  The key is that you have to commit to it for at least a month straight.  Try it, send me a note!
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In Defence of Small Victories

I am a sucker for a good rags to riches story. I always have been.  I love seeing the underdog succeed.  I am absolutely inspired by stories of people who overcome big odds and silence the critics and doubters to achieve great things.  My favorite movie by a long short is Rocky (although Warrior is pretty good…) and yes I did cheer for Tim Tebow this year.

My love of the underdog, for those people who dream big, fight with all their hearts, and somehow overcome, motivates me to seek big goals and dreams of my own.  To this end I’ve read all of the standard “dream big” books (Magic of Thinking Big, Think and Grow Rich, everything Tony Robbins has ever written, among many others…).  I don’t know why I have such a fascination with this subject.  Perhaps it is because I am the grandson of a poor immigrant who fought his way to carve out a life of comfort for his family in a new country.  Whatever it is I’ve always wanted to have a victory story of my own, and I’m working every day to achieve that.

In 2011 I thought that it would be “dream big” year for me.  I took a different approach to my goals than I normally do.  I tried to focus on a “big 5″ – that is, only five goals (big goals) that would very meaningful to me if I achieved them.  Everything else in my life would be secondary to these large (and stretching) goals, and I would dedicate my focus and daily attention on them only.  These goals covered not just financial, but also relationships and contribution to others as well.

The general premise behind this idea is sound.  Focusing only on the big things that you want should, in theory, cause you to take concerted daily action toward these lofty ideals.  The acute focus on these goals will drive you, and the compelling nature of what you want should be enough to pull you forward when you encounter challenges or discouragement along the way.

At the end of 2011 I did an inventory of my year and the things I accomplished.  From all objective standards I had a great year.  I made more income than I ever had.  I helped build another business with my wife and established a consistent passive income stream for my family. I went on multiple exotic trips.  I had meaningful experiences with my wife and family.  I contributed to others in the community and specifically went out of my way to help others.

But I ended the year feeling somewhat disappointed.  This confused me, as my life had definitely progressed in positive ways in 2011.  In reviewing the year, and analyzing my feelings, I realized a couple of things:

  • The goals I set were lofty and compelling.  However, they lacked definable clarity.  They were general in nature and better described as “ideals” which covered five areas of my life (fitness, family relationships, contribution to others, financial freedom and career achievement).  As a result, it was impossible to know “when”  or even “if” the goals were accomplished.
  • Since the goals were not specific I never got to experience the “feeling” that is associated with accomplishing something (even though I was achieving results).  I realized that I had taken for granted how important this feeling actually was.  When I fully analyzed the year I also realized that there were many days were I was discouraged and although I had lofty ideals pulling me forward I rarely acknowledged the “small victories” along the way and I didn’t register the associated positive feelings with these small victories.
  • I also realized that not acknowledging small victories caused me many times to experience self-doubt and fear when thinking about my ability to achieve my lofty ideals.  There were many times that I silently wondered whether my goals were too high, and whether I have what it takes to achieve them. Therefore it was hard to develop significant momentum throughout the year.
  • Also, there were many days that I never really felt that I was making any progress at all toward my goals.  I would work hard each day, but since my goals were general in nature I had a very difficult time feeling any sense of progress.

This method of self-analysis resulted in a major discovery:  Progress and achievement, at least for some people, is influenced by individual emotional states as much as it is by knowledge, skill or concerted effort.  

I am a believer in big goals and big dreams.  I always will be – but for some people (I would say me included) a natural emotional state is to engage a healthy dose of subconscious self-doubt when it comes to our actual ability to take on the impossible and win.  There are many people who are exceptions to this.  They believe in themselves, no matter how daunting the obstacle may be.  Most self-help books profile these individuals in exhaustive detail.  But for those of us who experience fear and self-doubt we have a hard time identifying with these types.

I realized that  for those of us who fear and doubt it is critical to control the emotional game, and build momentum, when attempting to achieve a lofty goal.  As a result, when I sat down at the beginning of the year to plan out 2012 I took a new approach:

  • I started out to write my massive goals (and they were lofty as always) but this year I made them specific and quantifiable (so that I would specifically know when and if I achieved them).
  • I didn’t just stop at the big goals – I then let the pen go and I wrote specific quantifiable goals that would be necessary to achieve my massive goals.
  • By the time I was done this I had written about 80 goals for the year.  To make it fun I added an additional 20 specific, quantifiable goals that would generally enhance my life (goals relating to travel, fun, music, exercise, contribution to others).
  • I finished with 100 clearly defined specific goals – some massive, other quite small.  Since this exercise I have looked at this list everyday and as of today (January 21, 2012) I have accomplished 6 of them.

In the three short weeks since this exercise I am amazed at the distinction in how I am feeling.  A couple observations:

  • The process of tracking these goals (and reviewing them everyday) has really engaged my mind to become clear about what I want.  I am more motivated to structure my time efficiently so that I am making daily progress.
  • Each time I achieve a goal I take a yellow highlighter and cross it off the list.  I realized that I love this process. Each time I do this I experience a small victory.  This small victory makes me feel great.  It gives me confidence and it is highly addictive.  I want to cross off more and more of these.  I feel like a kid.
  • I’ve managed to turn achievement into a game.  This is making it much more enjoyable.  Last year felt like a grind – constantly pushing forward to achieve my ideals.  So far this year feels like a game.  There is a huge emotional difference.
  • Each time I achieve a goal my confidence grows.  As my confidence grows my momentum grows. As my momentum grows my belief in my ability to tackle the massive goals also grows and I am also more acutely engaged in my attempts.

I believe this will be a fun year of achievement and I am excited to report on the progress at the end of the year.  If it goes well (which I think it will) I may have stumbled on a method that will become the norm for me going forward.

So for those of you dreaming big here is my advice: Keep dreaming big.  The world is truly blessed by individuals who dream big and have the courage to take action on their dreams.  However, set up the game to win emotionally.  Set, track and acknowledge small victories.  These will give you momentum, confidence and enjoyment.

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