The Right Thing To Do

I thought about writing this post early in the day, and then something that happened later in the morning (Friday 2/10/17) that sealed it. I was talking with a very successful young man, and he essentially said this:

“I am just trying to be a good person, not for what people will think or say about me, but because it is the right thing to do.”

If you are doing something for a thank you or recognition, it’s probably not the best reason. I’m not suggesting you aren’t doing a good deed or that you are selfish. We all like thanks and recognition. I’m just suggesting that the good deed should be enough. If you try to impose your personal shoulds and musts on the rest of the world, you are probably going to create a lot of misery for yourself.

To save yourself some pain and still be a great person, don’t do anything for thanks or recognition. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Make the plays because they are there, and you love making them, not because of what they will get you.

Running into Fire

When explaining that nothing outside of us makes us feel or think anything specific, I often like to point out examples from my clients’ own experiences.

One recent day I encountered two great examples based on the same act: Saving people from a fire.

First I had a fireman in my office. I was able to help point out that while most people see a burning building and assume it makes them fearful, he sees a burning building and confidently says, “I’ve got this.” Thank goodness there are people like him who understand that the situation does not control their thoughts and feelings.

Often when I use an example like this with someone else, they will say, “Well yeah, but he is trained to think that way.” This may be true, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that his feelings are coming from his thoughts about the burning building and not the burning building itself. Actually, it emphasizes this fact. It also does not mean that all trained people react to situations with the same thoughts and feelings, or that every person responds with the same thoughts and feelings every time a certain situation is encountered. Our past and our tendencies don’t dictate a specific response either.

Another client the same day illustrated that training isn’t necessary to understand that outside circumstances don’t control our thoughts and feelings. This gentlemen had no training in fire fighting, but he once ran to a burning car and pulled out the teenagers inside while other onlookers gasped in horror or honked their horns, frustrated that he left his car blocking the middle of the road in order to save lives (it is very interesting to me that annoyance was their response to the situation). He said he did so with confidence and without a care for his personal safety. If the burning car could make us think or feel any certain way, all human reactions to the burning car would have been the same. However, my client was able to feel confident that he could save lives (and he did it without any training), others were scared, and yet others were annoyed.

Training or not, when we understand that we have a level of mental and emotional freedom from the events of the world, we gain possibility. What you do with that possibility is based on your understanding of what you can do, but at the very least, please understand that you are not controlled by outside events even if it seems that way. I don’t suggest running into a fire, but it’s a great example of an extreme situation that does not control our response.

My question to you today is this: If I met two guys in one day who run into fires to save lives (one guy trained, the other not), what’s possible for you today? What situation can rise above?

Losing Control, Gaining Gratitude

A Super Bowl champion will be crowned today, and football fans and announcers will talk about how the winning team controlled the line of scrimmage, emotions, and the game. Perhaps the ultimate misnomer will be thrown out: Controlled their own destiny.

I’ve played and coached football, and lived life with what I like to consider a keen eye for observation for 43 years, and the term control should rarely, if ever, be applied to either. Sure, football and life both have elements of command, composure, and overpowering, but control is never complete. It is always limited. It is always conditional. And even when it seems like it is complete, it’s only because we aren’t considering at least a dozen factors we don’t control but are going in our favor at the moment. We have complete control over  nothing in life, and what we believe we control is only by definition, not reality.

What do we completely control? Emotions? Good luck controlling them. We don’t control our emotions any more than we control the weather. If we truly had complete control over our emotions, most of us would exert our control in order never to feel lonely, anxious, sad, or irritated, and yet we do. Emotions come and go. Sometimes they match what we want, sometimes they don’t. We don’t control our emotions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our thoughts? I don’t know about you, but I have doubts, fears, and distracted thoughts all the time. If I controlled my thoughts I would always choose to be focused and confident. If I completely controlled my thoughts, I would control them into inventing a helpful product everyone in the world desired and would purchase for a nice profit, and I’d sit back, cash checks, and write witty blog posts all day. But I don’t control my thoughts, so I go off to work 6 or 7 days a week trying to point in the right direction and influence what I can. We don’t completely control our thoughts, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our actions? I will grant this, if it seems like we control anything in life, it’s simple actions that don’t involve interacting with too many other people. We might control little actions like getting dressed and selecting music on an ipod, little things like that, but if you’ve ever been injured or sick, or had a coach or someone else who influenced when, where, and how you conducted your actions, your illusion of control over your physical actions was probably challenged.

I used to take for granted the control I had over walking and standing when and where I wanted, but nerve damage from a back injury destroyed my illusion of control. All of sudden, the control I had over something as simple as standing and coaching on the sideline didn’t seem to be within my control at all. The control I might have been able to claim was only temporary. The weakness in my left leg made me feel quite out of control of my own simple actions, like walking and standing. I came to realize the simple control I used to enjoy was temporary. At best, when our actions match our intentions, I like to think we have perfect influence over actions, but it’s only because other uncontrolled factors are going in our favor. Even when it seems like control, it’s control only by definition, a misleading definition at that. We truly only have influence over our actions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do you control in a game or life? No interaction is completely controlled. The world is full of interacting forces/influences every second of every day. If an action or outcome of a play results in what you intended, it doesn’t mean you controlled it. The outcome simply matched your intention. That’s not control, it’s icing on the cake. It’s a bonus. We don’t always get what we want, but it’s great when we do. We don’t control any interaction, and yet it’s not a problem. Our influence is so often enough.

Do not fear this lack of control, indeed, a lack of control is one of the very reasons we compete and take on challenges. There is a reason we don’t compete in activities that have no challenge. For any activity we might be able to control (if control truly existed), there is simply nothing to measure against an opponent to make it fun, challenging, and exciting. Think of some simple actions you are tempted to believe you control. Do you engage in those activities? No. There is a reason we don’t run football plays against air for guaranteed touchdowns every time. The opponent has a purpose. The opponent creates a challenge that we do not control. Competing against an opponent creates an unknown outcome, and that is fun, challenging, and exciting.

It is precisely our lack of control that makes competition and challenge delicious. We don’t compete to control. That would be boring. We compete to influence! We want to feel powerful, and real power doesn’t come from control, it comes from successfully exerting influence over that which we cannot control.

In discovering our true power, influence, we are no longer confused or frustrated about trying to control the uncontrollable. This confusion and frustration that accompanies the illusion of control often leads to the blame game, and we begin to blame anything and everything, including ourselves, for controlling something in a direction we don’t desire.

Influence is incredibly empowering. When it works favorably, it feels like control, because the process matches our intentions, but unlike the illusion of control, it never promises what it can’t deliver. Like a boat in the water, we have some command of the boat, but so does the water. Sometimes it is exerting minimal influence, and sometimes it is exerting its influence with a raging storm. Sometimes our best influence is knowing when battle the storm and when to seek safe harbor.

I jettisoned belief control from my life about a year and half ago, and the difference I feel is impressive. With a clearer understanding of how the world works, I have an emotional freedom that I never expected but always desired. I still screw up and act as if control exists sometimes, but my recovery to clarity is much quicker now.

I think the biggest benefit of influence over control is the gratitude I feel for simple pleasures that I influence but do not control. For example, in the past year, I’ve known two gentlemen under 45 years of age who went to bed believing they were perfectly healthy but died in their sleep.Understanding my lack of control in this process has led to feeling more gratitude for waking up each day and getting another crack at this great life I have been given.

Two months ago, a wheel basically fell off my wife’s car when a strut broke and a cascade of suspension problems occurred. She thought she was in control of that car when it did her bidding, but as it turns out, the car is always under a whole set of influences few of us ever consider. He actual control of the car was the same before and after the wheel fell off, but her sense of control was vastly different, her illusion of control smashed to smithereens after the car crumbled beneath her. Thank goodness the forces of the universe came together to break the car in a parking lot instead of at 75 miles per hour on I75.

So these days, when the forces of the universe don’t converge in my favor, I try to remember that I never had control, and I try to move on by influencing what I can with as little frustration as possible. But when the forces of the forces of the universe converge in the moment to give me what I want, I can’t help but consider it…..miraculous. I’m not really a miracle kind of guy, but I can’t think of a better term to described what I sense. With that miracle in hand, I feel fortunate and experience gratitude for simple pleasures like waking up and arriving at my destination safely.

To me, this gratitude for the influence I have is the most accurate, powerful way to conduct my life. I hope you find the same and enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday. Get after making plays in your world with the influence you have at your command.

The Goal is Internal and Within Reach

Piggybacking on the last two day’s posts, which discussed being sad about death because we love life and being present in the moment to an internal goal that is within reach, I want to emphasize the importance of living in the moment. Robert Pirsig’s quote (read yesterdays post or see the bottom of this post for the quote) is an important reminder to me that it is possible to have an internal goal that I am capable of reaching, and that is really all I need to live in the moment. Understanding that my thoughts and feelings are not controlled by outside circumstances has helped me live in the moment much more often the past year and a half.

Living in the moment is a major theme of what I call making the play by being aware, awake, and alive. I understand that nothing outside me has the power to create a certain thought or feeling. Sure, sometime it seems that way, but I always remember that I am free from both external and internal control. This understanding creates tremendous freedom which I can often use to direct my attention toward the potential greatness of this moment. If I am making the play, I seize that greatness, even if it is a very small gesture.

While the play may be external, I have begun to truly understand that my ultimate goal is internal and within reach: Attempt to make plays as often as possible, and when I fail, understand that every moment is pregnant with new possibilities for making more plays.

I realize a beautiful experience of the world and happiness are available every second of every day. I know that I do not need a certain net worth, number of followers, or trophies on the shelf. I may not always have happiness, and that is fine and normal, but I certainly try to remember that happiness only resides inside me.

With that happiness, I can project it into the world no matter what is here in front of me at the moment. Obviously, some things – like the death I wrote about yesterday – occur, and my thoughts about those things preclude me from being happy for a time. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t mean that I am beholden to outside circumstances, and it doesn’t mean I am broken because I can’t power-of-positive-thinking my way out of a bad feeling at the moment. It just means I care for people, understand the fleeting nature of life, and am profoundly affected about it for the time being. I know it won’t last even if it might reoccur to me.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and if you are so moved, I hope it points in an important direction. I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.


To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be here. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

By Robert M. Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Little Things


“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make the big things happen.”
-John Wooden, Legendary College Basketball Coach


In explaining what it means to make the play, I often point people toward their own areas of expertise, their own endeavors, their own lives, and ask, “What are the little things that make the big things happen? Those are the plays to be made.”

Here is a letter I wrote to my daughter’s basketball team helping explain this concept. I think it will help clear it up for you, and it’s a great resource to share if you have kids. It’s about basketball, but I think you will be able to easily apply it to other activities.

Here’s the letter:


Ladies, what a pleasure it is to get to coach this great team.

Did you know that great teams look at every single day, every single practice, and every single rep in every practice as an opportunity to either get better or get worse. Do you agree? What little things are you striving to improve today?

As we move forward and continue to get better as a team, it is very important that we improve our performance on the little things.

What are the little things? The little things are the important little pieces of the puzzle that make big things – like winning – happen.

Here is a list of little things you might improve today:
Boxing out;
Playing defense with our feet;
Not reaching and not committing silly fouls;
Improving shooting form; Improving ball handling;
Improving passing;
Improving catching;
Calling out picks;
Moving around picks;
Playing great help defense;
Calling and running offensive plays;
Picking up teammates with enthusiasm.

Can you think of others?

What little things are you committed to improving today?

What is your commitment level to getting better at the little things today?


We then talk more about their ideas about the little things, and they give themselves a silent rating of their own commitment at moment, just a little reminder self-pointing in a certain direction.

So in making your own plays out there in life – be it sports, school, family, business, education, law, etc. – I ask you:

What little things are you committed to improving today?

What is your commitment level to getting better at the little things today?

I hope your day is great and you rise and shine.

Grit: A Different Label for Rising and Shining

Grit seems to be all the rage these days. It’s a popular word, and it is – and always has been – an important concept. Call it grit, perseverance, tenacity, stick-to-it-iveness, whatever you want, it’s good to have. So let’s think about it more.

Some folks think grit is a characteristic some people have and others don’t. I don’t think that’s accurate. To be sure, some of us show grit more often than others, but that doesn’t mean there is a population of people who have no grit. More than likely, we all fluctuate in our own understanding of our personal grit, and some people simply think in ways that keep their natural grit hidden or covered up.

If you think about it, grit may be an aptly named but misleading term. Grit is a term we apply to people who excel through all of life’s dirt and grime. So on one hand, it certainly appears aptly named, at least for onlookers gazing at gritty individuals.

To the individual, grit often appears very different. Someone who is gritty has become aware of illusions of control and resists them (see Be Aware for more on illusions of control). They have begun to see that the outside world of circumstances has no power over them, and they understand they are free to think and feel as they can, as they feel they must. In essence, they are shining with their inner brilliance and fire despite the appearance of what we call the dirt and grime and life. When we realize the dirt and grime is just a filter, a label if you will, created by one’s own belief system, we are free to rise and shine.

The gritty individual appears to rise above the circumstances of her life. The truth is, we all live above the circumstances of our lives. Only some of us realize it.

There is one sure way to have more grit, persistence, and mental toughness in your life: Be aware that the conditions/situations of the world have no control over you.

To put it another way, nothing outside of us can make us think or feel any certain way. We think and feel certain ways about things. We project our mindsets (and the thoughts churning within them) onto the world in front of us, and this creates our experience of the world. The more we realize this process is free from external control, the more freedom we gain. The more freedom we gain, the possibility opens up to us.

I want you to imagine for a moment that the dirt and grime of the world is not controlling you. Sure, you can feel badly about it. There’s no blame to be cast your direction for feeling down, sad, anger, or fearful, but never lose sight of the fact that you are free to evolve when you are ready. When you realize you are free to do so, when you realize you live above those situations, you will naturally rise and live a life of greater possibility (see Be Awake for more on possibility). You may also see that despite negative feelings and thoughts, you need not act in a negative way, and indeed you may realize you are quite capable of greatness even when not feeling your best.

So my question to you is: What will you do when you awaken to your freedom and possibility? What plays will you make with your newfound sense of grit, or as I like to call it: tenacity, perseverance, mental toughness, shining, brilliance?

As you make plays today, please share with me if you like. Use #madetheplay as your hashtag.

As always, thanks for reading, and I greatly appreciate all your shares and spreading the message.

The Way We Point Matters

As I noted yesterday in Leaving It Blank, one problem with communication is that we point in too many directions, or the words we use to point are unclear. Another problem is that we don’t always understand that we often point with various methods. In other words, what we point to matters, and the way we point matters.

For example, when we speak to someone, we point with our words, and we also point with our tone of voice, facial expressions, body posture, and other forms of messages. To be clear, none of what we point to or the way we point makes anyone interpret a message in a certain way, but people are pretty reliable. Communication is possible because certain messages tend to be interpreted in consistent, reliable ways.

A verbal message said in the wrong tone of voice often points in a different direction than the one we intended. If you want to be effective in your communication, it helps to understand the mindset of your audience (seek first to understand), and point in a certain direction as clearly and consistently as possible. This entails considering what your audience can see, hear, feel, smell, taste. You certainly might not use all of these senses, but you might. Consider as many senses as you need to, and communicate accordingly.

Keep in mind that people are often very good at picking up on subtleties in voice, eyes, and body posture/movements. What they think about your complete communication package will create their experience of you, and one of the best ways to make sure you communicate consistently in all possible ways is to communicate from your love, passion, compassion, light, etc. The more you know your basic self, and the simpler your intention, the greater the match between what you point to and the way you point to it.

Pointing in the Right Direction

Because external control of another person’s thoughts and feelings doesn’t exist (there is no real Jedi Mind Trick that I am aware of), it pays to think carefully about communicating with other people. Many of us communicate as if we can make another person understand what we are saying. Very often, we try to persuade by force and relentless hammering away at them with what we consider a good point.

I’m raising my hand at this one. I was that guy. I am that guy at times still, and I’m probably an outlier on the side I’d rather not be on. But the more I understand that I can’t make anyone think or feel anything, the more I try to consider another person’s possible perspective, or perhaps more importantly, her likely perspective. While I think I have always been very empathic (being raised by a social worker pointed me in this direction, thanks Mom), I find that this new understanding has taken me to even greater levels of empathy.

When I’m thinking clearly, instead of thinking more about the validity of my point or the holes in the other person’s misunderstanding (misunderstanding here means according to my thinking at the moment), I start thinking about commonalities. What does this person believe? How is what I am pointing to similar to what they already believe? Clearly my approach isn’t working, so what can I point to that will be closer to something that they already understand?

As I start thinking in this way, new questions often occur to me, and it often leads to me asking questions that help clarify the person’s current understanding (as opposed to hammering away with my next good point). The great leadership expert Steven Covey called this first seeking to understand.

Once I have a clearer understanding of the person’s beliefs, I am then usually able to communicate in a way that honors their own current understanding. I am then able to point in a certain direction, one that they are likely to understand.

First seeking to understand so that I may make a better point in a certain direction typically improves my communication in the following ways:

  • Allows my own empathy to rise.
  • Honors the other persons right their own beliefs, opinions, and feelings.
  • Creates a clearer picture of a new path for mutual understanding, one pointed out by me and possibly understood by them.
  • Often leads to me pointing in a direction that helps both of us realize our inherent connection.

Because we do not have external control, all we can do is point in a certain direction. It is up to the other person to see what we see or not, but before they can accept it, they must understand it. This is why it is so important to start from their understanding. Even very disparate ways of seeing the world have commonalities, and these commonalities breed acceptance. Once understood, an idea is accepted only to be later confirmed or rejected long term.

Trying to make someone else accept your point seems a bit like saying, “You will understand my point or be ignorant of it.” All this does is point to my own foolishness. In contrast, it seems that pointing in a certain direction is like saying, “Ok, I think I understand what you see. Now please, look over there. Do you see what I see?” More and more, I am finding that I am capable of the latter, and it has improved my communication.

I hope my pointing in a certain direction about pointing in a certain direction helps you understand communication a bit better. Thinking about pointing in the right direction should help you make a good point (an act of pointing in the right direction for yourself and others) rather than focusing too narrowly on your own point (a position in your own thoughts).