Open Expectations

In yesterday’s post about grit, I mentioned that a way to increase grit is to be aware that the conditions/situations of the world have no control over you. One great way to do this is to remind yourself that outcomes have no control over you. This is true whether outcomes are positive or negative. To point yourself in this direction, see if you can have open expectations.

Open expectations are neither high goals nor low goals. In a way, they are a sort of anti-goal that should help create a mindset for all types of possibilities.

Open expectations set no ceiling nor floor for what can happen. It’s an expectation that, “Anything can happen, and I can handle it all.”

With open expectations, I have found in myself and my clients the following:

  • No fear or anxiety when high performance occurs. There is no glass ceiling. Performance can soar without the restriction of high expectations. In essence, performance can surpass one’s wildest dreams.
  • An opponent playing well doesn’t phase us because we know it has no bearing on our own mindset and emotions. Their playing well was within our expectations all along.
  • The unexpected does not phase us. We were completely open to anything and everything happening. However, the more possibility we can imagine, the more we can prepare for, and the smaller the unexpected world becomes.
  • We are filled with supreme confidence that comes from an understanding that we are not our outcomes nor our performances. These are temporary and fleeting, and we are greater than that. We always have an opportunity to make new plays. We can handle anything that comes our way.

When I start explaining this idea, some people jump to the conclusion that I am suggesting abandoning high expectations or goals of any type. This is not the case.

If you want to set goals or have expectations, do it. After all, I’m a proponent that we don’t control our thinking (though I do believe we influence it, thinking is sort of like paddling a canoe in a river, we have some influence, but so does the river, which limits and influences us to some extent), so how could I suggest you abandon a goal that has occurred to you. It may not be possible for you to unsee the goal once it is clear in your mind. I might just suggest that you not become so attached to the goal that you ascribe it some magical power to make you happy. The world doesn’t work this way, so I like to point in the direction of clarity.

Also, understand that having high expectations does not mean you will reach them, just as having doubts doesn’t mean you won’t reach them. Having doubts and high expectations are states of mind, not objective indicators about what is possible. Understand that your thoughts create your experience of the world and all the possibilities it entails. If you want to have high expectations and find it possible to imagine, by all means, do it. I would simply point out two other things: 1) It might also help to have open expectations about what could be possible in both a negative and positive direction. 2) Both doubts and confidence are normal and temporary. If you like confidence, try to steer in that direction when you can.

I hope you give open expectations a try. I hope you find, as I have, that it is a tremendous mindset for allowing our inner fire to burn brightly.

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.

Feeding Your Self(-Talk)

As I more often understood and remembered that my thoughts or feelings are free from external control, it occurred to me that I wanted to change my vocabulary. Or perhaps more to the point, I realized that what I said to myself and others contradicted my messages when I used certain phrases that I have used for the majority of my lifetime.

One of those changes is that I try to remember not to say anything like…

  • that makes me happy,
  • that drives me crazy,
  • this makes me angry.

The word makes implies external control, and that doesn’t exist.

Instead, I try to use phrases like, I am happy about that or I’m upset about that. The word about is the key for my mind (you may have others that seem to work better for you).

This recognizes that the thought/feeling is mine and free from external control. Nothing makes me feel a certain way, but I am free to feel any way about anything.

After that, I try to remember that I don’t truly control my reactions either, so there is no need to cast self-blame and fuel further frustration over a reaction I don’t control. For example, I find many people are not only upset about a situation, they are further upset about being upset. Having too many thoughts and feelings about feelings seems to be quite exhausting, particularly when the thoughts and feelings are negative***.

My reactions are what they are based on a number of factors, some of which I am aware of, some of which I am not. No matter what my reaction, I try to find my influence, which is my can do thought or action that makes the most sense to me.

I like to think of finding my influence as feeding (or fueling) my self-communication, and I try to be as nutritious as possible (with a cheat day thrown in once in a while because, hey, I’m human and imperfect).

If I like my thoughts and feelings, cool. I usually find that I can keep feeding that state with more positive thoughts.

If I don’t like my thoughts or feelings, I try to starve them by replacing them with the understanding that a feeling can’t hurt me or control me (mentally, emotionally, or physically), and I try to keep my composure. Composure and emotional control aren’t the same thing, although I do suspect many people think of them and use them interchangeably (and that’s fine, although I would contend not optimal). True emotional control doesn’t exist as far as I can tell. Composure is keeping a calm, cool demeanor even though you are boiling emotionally. Put yet another way, composure is knowing you have influence and believing you can even when your emotions or the circumstances seem to be pointing to can’t.

The more I trust I am allright and free to change my mind, the quicker the unpleasant thoughts and feelings seem to leave. After remembering that I am free from all types of control, internal and external, I then try to awaken to my own influence. What can I do about this? What thoughts come to mind? If I don’t like this thought or feeling, fine…..can I change my experience in this moment by having a certain thought occur to me?

If a positive thought occurs to me, I try to feed it and see where the feelings go from there. Sometimes the thoughts are familiar to me, and sometimes they are true insights, new and unique ways of seeing the world. In any case, I try to see if I can feed the positive and starve the negative.

Of course, I make mistakes and buy into illusions of control at times, sleep on possibilities, and screw up plays on a daily basis. When I catch myself doing so, I try to starve the negative and feed my self-communication nutritiously again with as much positivity as occurs to me. This cycle repeats as I try to live a life aware, awake, and alive to making plays.

I happen to believe that our self-communication is one way of feeding our thoughts and emotions, so it seems important to feed it nutritiously. Pay attention to your vocabulary and the implications your words point to. I think you will find that your vocabulary points either toward or away from illusions of control, awareness of possibilities, and influence to make plays. Here’s to hoping you frequently find self-talk that feeds a sense of freedom, mental clarity, and personal power.

***Truth be told, I am not a fan of the terms positive and negative. I am using them here because other people are fans of them, and frankly, I can’t come up with anything better at the moment. Please realize that positive and negative are vague terms open to personal interpretation.

An Invitation to Possibility

You can’t make anyone think or feel a certain way, but not everyone you speak to is always aware of that fact. Some people may blame you for their thoughts or feelings. That means that when you encounter someone, they will project their current mindset onto you and your message no matter what you say. Essentially, no matter what direction you point, they will project their current mindset onto it and interpret it through that filter. If the direction you point to or the way you point contains any hint of being upset, it will only provide more fuel for the other person to think in upset ways.

Effective communicators have found that pointing in any outward direction is ineffective. Instead, they perform a type of reflection. They calmly and simply direct the other person back inside their own thoughts.

Simple phrases to help accomplish this reflection include:
“How are you?”
“Give me your thoughts.”

Each of these simple statements has the effect of directing the other person back into his own thoughts. This gives an opportunity to be introspective, and when the focus is internal, possibility opens up.

Why is it that introspection opens up possibility? It’s because being open is very natural and our default setting. We are curious beings and our thoughts are meant to flow. With time, thoughts always flow and change. However, if someone is stuck on the illusion of external control and is actively feeding that illusion, keeping them focused on that illusion will only feed it and keep it alive. It’s better to remove the focus from it through encouraging reflection.

After encouraging reflection – and inevitably finding some type of blame going on – you can then see if you can point to possibility. But try not to point directly. Throw out an invitation for the other person to create their own possibility. Inviting open ended possibility is often received much better than giving specific advice.

Here are some ideas on how to do invite possibility:
“Is there another way to see (the situation described in the person’s own terms)?
“How would ___________ explain the situation?”
“If you ignore it, do you think this problem might look differently tomorrow?”

Opening up to possibility is a relatively simple way to start effective communication, especially if you sense someone is in a very blocked, cluttered mindset. It’s an honorable way to seek to understand before pointing in an uninvited direction, a direction that is likely to be interpreted in an unintended way.

Pick ‘Em Up

My college coaches didn’t allow us to practice in silence. We were supposed to be loud with encouragement and communication. When practice fell silent with apathy or self pity, we were sure to hear a certain phrase: “Pick ’em up!”

Pick ’em up was our command to get loud with encouragement and enthusiasm. Of course, the command did not need to be issued by coaches. Players could just as easily sound the command to pick ’em up.

The idea was that when we were silent, we were probably too focused on being down in someway….

  • down on the scoreboard,
  • down on our playing time,
  • down on the weather conditions,
  • down on our conditioning, or
  • down on our selves, coaches, or teammates.

When we shouted encouragement, we were picking each other up. Now, based on what I’ve written lately (see It’s a Great Day to be Alive or Pointing in the Right Direction), you should understand that nobody can actually force another person to increase their own enthusiasm. However, we are reliable beings with working senses, and if someone is shouting encouragement at you, it’s hard to ignore.

It’s also hard to ignore the messages we send ourselves in a loud and clear fashion. If I am yelling, “Come on! Let’s go! We’ve got this!” at you, it’s also hard for me to ignore my own voice, and it tends to feed my own enthusiasm, even if I initially had to fake it.

In yelling encouragement, it is very likely that I will pick up my own enthusiasm, and it’s also likely that anyone hearing me will connect to my enthusiasm. The reason they connect is not because I forced them to be enthusiastic. That’s impossible. What really happens is that I am pointing in a direction that they understand. As with Coach Egnatuk reminding me that it was a great day to be alive, the enthusiasm is in them already, and they simply recognized or remembered it when I pointed it out. Their fire was never out. It was just forgotten momentarily and only needed a reminder to be stoked into a raging blaze.

This is great to know because it means that if we ever feel as if someone else motivated us, the motivation was within us all along. The implication of this is that we never really need anyone else to pick us up. We only need a reminder, and that reminder can come from inside or outside.

When you get many people together on a team who understand this, enthusiasm appears to be contagious, and indeed, some people may describe it that way. One person points in a direction, and two or more people connect to it and follow that direction. It can be an incredible experience.

So when life seems like it is driving on your team and about to score, remember to point in the right direction for your teammates and pick ’em up.

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).

It’s a Great Day to be Alive

I’ve been writing for a two weeks about how no person and no thing outside you can make you think or feel any certain way, yet I advocate for positive communication. This can seem like a contradiction without further explanation, so I’d like to explain how communication and sharing our light works upon the world around us. As you know from reading my other posts, it’s not through external control.

A quick story will help me illustrate my point:

Albion, MI 1992

There’s a fire in the sky. The sun burns hot and bright already at 7:45am, and its rays punch me as soon as I step out of the locker room. As a biology major, I understand that the sun is the source of energy that fuels all life on earth, but lately its August heat just seems to drain me of mine.

I can smell the freshly cut grass and the unmistakable stench of sweat-soaked football pads. My own gear is damp and uncomfortable, and pain radiates through my body, hard-earned through pounding runs on the rock hard practice field and crushing collisions over the past week’s two and three-a-day practices.

As I trudge slowly toward the practice field, I hear Coach Dave Egnatuk’s cleats scratch the pavement as he runs up behind me, and I know what’s coming next. His voice echoes in my head before he even speaks a word. Then I hear him belt it out at the top of his lungs.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

Coach Egnatuk runs onward toward the practice field and shouts, “It’s a great day to be alive!” every 30 yards or so. A gathering mass of players hustles behind him as he runs, a smaller mass tries hard to stay ahead of him. Many players now echo Coach’s shouts with their own.

“It’s a great day to be alive!”

“It’s a great day to be alive!” I hear Coach shout again, and suddenly I become aware of another fire. This fire is burning inside my own chest.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

The shouts all around me are reminders of what I already know, affirmations of a core belief about the fire, warmth, and greatness of life, and as my inner fire blazes I kick up my pace to a sprint. It’s a great day to be alive indeed.

I used to think Coach Eggy shouting, “It’s a great day to be alive,” made me feel good. I mean, that’s what we call it when someone says something, we hear it, and then we start to feel good.

But there is a problem with that type of thinking. If you are a careful reader of my recent blogs (such as Be Aware), you understand that type of thinking falls into the category of giving in to the illusion of control. Nobody can make you think or feel anything. Nobody controls your thoughts or feelings. So what was going on there? Why is this concept so important? And how is it that what’s going on is something much greater than it even appears?

As we go through life and take in the world around us, we project our mindset onto it. Therefore, if I hear, “It’s a great day to be alive!” and begin to feel good, it’s because my mindset recognizes the truth or beauty in those words. The sentiment that it’s a great day to be alive was certainly within Coach, but he didn’t make it appear in me. Certainly he provided the voice to that thought at that moment, but I had to recognize my own understanding in his words. The idea that it was a great day to be alive was already within me. It was just momentarily obscured from my thoughts. I needed a reminder from out in the world to recognize it again, and in that regard, Coach was a great leader who did me a huge favor.

The power to influence our own experience of the world resides within each of us, not outside of us, and that’s a very powerful realization. It means we don’t need anyone or anything to make me feel motivated, strong, powerful. However, because we don’t control our thinking (we influence it, we truly don’t control it), we aren’t always aware of what we are overlooking. So sometimes it helps to have a leader who is pointing in the right direction.

Sometimes, you need a leader to point you in the right direction. Other times, you are the leader pointing others in the right direction.

Be a great leader today. Be a great follower today. Point in the right direction. It’s a great day to be alive.

Overcoming Fear of Your Light

Earlier this week, one of my friends, Benjamin Rice, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about our inner light.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness which most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

This quote is from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. I’m not sure I agree with the entire quote, but I think it rings true for many people. What I really love about the quote is it accurately captures a concept I’ve seen in many people: Fear of our light.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you fear your light, brilliance, radiance, power?

For a moment, consider why anyone would fear their light, goodness, power, brilliance?

I have a few thoughts on why this could happen. Some of these thoughts come from research, but others come from thorough experience and observation working with a good number of clients over the years. Here are a few good candidates for why someone might seemingly be afraid of her own light.

  • Discomfort with Change: People are simply very uncomfortable with change at times.
  • Fear of Failure: If we try to shine, and don’t meet with what we term successful outcomes, we believe we will feel like we failed. Or perhaps worse, we believe we will be failures. Thus, in this case, fear of success really turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: People are sometimes afraid to confront their light because they are fearful of giving up control. If I believe in control but don’t attempt to exert that control in pursuit of some outcome, I can still believe that I will have control when the conditions are right. I can save face, so to speak. There’s some safety in that. But if I let my light shine, and I get rejected or don’t get the outcomes I’m looking for, my confrontation with the limits of control is more stark and forceful. This seems risky if I am not ready to confront the limits of my control. Here again, fear of success turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: Marianne Williamson’s quote above has an important suggestion for why we might fear our light: Maybe we simply fear standing out as special. After all, if we are special and not doing much with our lives, aren’t we squandering our talents?

If you’ve read Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love, you probably know that she defines a miracle as a change in perspective. So following her lead, if you are stuck fearing your light or darkness, I’d like to point in a different direction for you. See if these perspectives help you embrace your light.

  • Discomfort with Change: If you are having discomfort with change, relax. You certainly aren’t alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. If you are truly letting your light shine, rather than making a grab at the illusion of outside sources of happiness, you will be fine.
  • Fear of Failure: We create our experience of the world with our thoughts. Success and failure are mental concepts, not physical ones. When we fear failure, we aren’t typically thinking about being a novice high wire walker practicing without a net. We When we fear failure, we are usually fearing the imagined consequences of failure. This is usually not a productive endeavor. It’s more accurate to understand that you can and will change your interpretation of success and failure as your thoughts shift (and they will shift as surely as the winds will change direction and intensity). You can also understand that you aren’t defined by outcomes, and you can focus on the moment.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: If you read my writing, I hope you already have an understanding of the illusion of control. Control actually contracts your influence and potential. Lose control, and replace it with belief in your powerful influence, and you will feel your light shining brightly.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: I think Marianne’s words point in the best direction here. She wrote:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine……

Please do not fear your inner fire. We are all powerful beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams, and when we let this light shine, we can help light the world for others, pointing them toward their own inner brilliance. Use the gifts you have to influence the world in front of you. Don’t worry about making a huge contribution to the world, your contribution should be to your world, which is your team,  your family, your friends, your community, your organizations. Rise and shine today. Be brilliant.