Keep Smiling

Just because you fail once, it doesn’t mean you’re going to fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on and always, always, always believe in yourself because if you don’t, then who will? So keep your head high, keep your chin up and most importantly keep smiling because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.

Marilyn Monroe

We all experience failure, loss and hard times, some of which hit us harder than others. When failure does strike, the first thing we tend to do is to lose perspective. We stop looking at the bigger picture and just focus on the failure itself, blowing it out of proportion.

The easiest thing to do is also the hardest thing to do in these situations. We all know that we need to take a step back, look at the positives, look at what we can learn from the failure and then get up and get to work again. The problem is that this is easier said than done.

This is why I love the above quote by Marilyn Monroe so much. There is so much truth and wisdom in it.

Personal experience has taught me that the best way to recover from a failure and regain your perspective and mojo is a change of scenery. After all, how can you be reminded of the beauty of life of you are sat looking at the same 4 walls and feeling sorry for yourself?!

The temptation when things go wrong is to slump on the sofa and binge watch Netflix, or seek some other form of escapism. Short-term this may numb the pain, but it doesn’t solve your problem.  I fell into this trap more times than I care to admit.

This changed when, after one particular setback which hit me hard, a friend forced me to get up, get out of the house and go for a walk in the woods nearby. The effect was magical. As my body moved and loosened, my lungs filled with fresh air and my mind cleared. We keep walking, and as we did, I felt better and better.

By the time we went back home, I felt refreshed and happy. I’d been forced out of my pit of misery and been reminded about the beauty of nature which is right on my doorstep. Most importantly, I felt like there was no time to waste and that I needed to address this failure. So, I grabbed my journal and a pen and started reflecting on what happened and breaking it down.

I had recovered from a confidence-sapping failure, and all it took was a walk outside. A change of scenery led to a change of perspective and the way I was looking at the problem. Instead of wallowing in self pity, i’d been reminded of the beauty of life and that had got me back on my feet after a fall.

Of course, there have been other failures since. Each time, though, I forced myself to do something; bike rides, gym, museums, rugby games…whatever took my fancy. I took myself away from the problem, and by the time I returned I did so mentally refreshed and with fresh pair of eyes.

Telling someone who is enduring a tough time to change the way they are looking at the problem doesn’t help. Neither does telling them to reflect, regroup and go again, because at that moment they are suffering from tunnel vision. All they can see is the problem, nothing else.

So, my advice to you is to get up, get out of the house or office, and do something else for a while. Get active, get busy doing something you enjoy or spend time with family or friends. This is what will help you to pick yourself up after a fall, after which you can go back to the problem, conduct a post-mortem, learn, adapt, grow and go at it again.

 

 

Expect great things of yourself

Have you ever stopped to think carefully about what standards you are setting for yourself personally and professionally? If not, now is the time to start. What do you expect of yourself? Are you living up to your expectations? What behaviours and influences do you allow from other people?

Not enough time and consideration is given to the expectations we set for ourselves. This can lead to us falling short of our potential or entering into toxic relationships with people who don’t respect us. The truth is that we either live up or live down to the expectations we set for ourselves. Subconsciously, we determine what we are prepared to accept in our lives and our actions and words are adjusted to reflect this.

You can identify someone who has set low expectations for themselves by the language they use. They hope, wish or wonder if something is possible. This screams self-doubt. The message that they are sending is that they would love it if they could achieve whatever it is that they are focusing on, but they are not convinced that they can do it. This will then show in their actions. They won’t commit fully to a course of action because they don’t believe that they have a realistic chance of success. And then they wonder why they fell short of their goals, convincing themselves that they did all they could and it just wasn’t meant to be. I know this scenario very well, because I have been here more times than I care to remember.

On the other hand, when you set high expectations for yourself, your mindset becomes more positive and your actions more determined. Expect great things of yourself because when you expect success, you attract positive results. Without realising it, you will  put everything you have into whatever you do, which in turn will give you the best possible chance of succeeding in pursuit of your goals. You expected to succeed, so you put every ounce of effort you could muster into making it happen. Not only that, but when you set high expectations for yourself, you tend to find yourself drawn to like-minded people. Instead of being drawn into toxic relationships with people whose insecurities and agendas will bring you down and damage your confidence, you will find yourself among people who inspire you and support your goals and your direction.

Stop hoping. Stop wishing. Stop wondering. That is for dreamers. Know that it will happen. Expect that it will happen. And then work relentlessly for it. That is as close to a recipe for success as I can give you.

If you are serious about changing your life, you need to change your views on greatness and success. Instead of thinking about them as something to be hoped for, learn to think of them as something which you expect. This leads to a shift to a positive mindset, and with this mindset you will naturally be inclined to do everything within your power to achieve that which you expect. Set yourself high expectations and you will find yourself doing whatever it takes to meet them. Set them low, and you will find yourself forever dreaming about what others are achieving.

Ok, so here comes the hard part. I have some homework for you. Grab a pen and paper, and write down what you currently expect of yourself, what you value and what you allow into your life. Now think about how you could raise those expectations. Where are you selling yourself short? Create a list of new, high expectations and set about achieving them. Believe that they will happen, and your actions will reflect this because if you expect great things, you will do whatever it takes to achieve them. It’s hard and takes a lot of practice, but once those wins start coming, you won’t be lowering your expectations again. Ever.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Judgement. We often don’t realise that we are doing it, but using our judgement to make informed decisons is an important part of our daily lives. Every day, we have countless decisions to make, so we use our experiences, knowledge and wisdom to make the best possible decisions or come to sensible conclusions. It’s a shortcut which saves a lot of time and energy in our increasingly busy days. We use our judgement to determine everything from our grocery shopping list to our interactions with others. It is with the latter, however, that judgement can often let us down. Badly. 

Judgement can be positive or negative. A positive judgement, when we apply it to other people, makes us more open towards them, and approach our interactions with them positively. This, in turn, can open the door to countless opportunities to network,  help each other and share knowledge or experiences. In this way, when we look upon somebody favourably the potential for mutual benefit is immense. Of course, you never approach another person with a view to what you may gain but it is in our nature to help others who we look upon favourably and connect with.

Not everyone is looked upon positively, though. Sometimes, whether intentionally or not, we judge other people negatively before we have even met them. People can be judged negatively for a multitude of reasons ranging from their job title to their lifestyle choices. Worse yet, some people are negatively judged simply because a friend, colleague or family member doesn’t approve of them. This is before there has been any actual interaction. When a person is judged negatively, a door is closed on them and opporrunities are lost.

I was on the receiving end of unfounded negative judgement recently. Looking to buy a house soon, I have taken on a second job in security and work on the occasional evening or weekend. During a recent shift, an employee from one of the larger companies mentioned in passing that he faced working through the night because of an urgent situation. This is because of some issues with an overseas client. While reluctant to divulge too much detail, what he described made me curious as it was what I deal with in a daily basis. In my normal role, I deal with similar situations countless times every day. So, I offered to help in any way I can during my break. Without asking as to how I could help, this young man simply looked me up and down and laughed before saying no. I told him that I have the knowledge and experience to help and am asking for nothing in return. I just fancied a bit of brain stimulation. He simply rolled his eyes and walked away. He looked at me and saw a security guard. Nothing more. Had he asked, I would’ve told him about my regular role and how I could help. His loss. I had tried. It was at this point that it hit me how it feels to be judged on sight and not on merit. I felt gutted, almost dirty, but soon picked myself back up as I am not embarassed about taking on extra work in order to take a step closer towards my goals. He lost out on an opportunity to solve a problem and save several hours of stress on a Friday night. 

Hours later, on a patrol, I saw the young man again. He offered a limp apology as to his behaviour earlier and I accepted. This time he asked why I had offered to help, so I explained what it is that I do in a professional capacity and that security was a second job to help with buying a house. I then explained that I couldn’t help now as i’d worked all day and then rushed to my second job, so was exhausted and going home, leaving him to try and solve his problem.

By judging me on my appearance, this young man robbed himself of an opportunity to get help in solving an urgent problem. Of course, I could’ve offered to help again later but this is the downside of treating others badly for no reason; they may simply be unable or unwilling to help you once the moment has passed. This was completely avoidable.

Exercising our judgement is an important part of daily life. It can steer us away from bad decisions or lead us towards good ones. However, we should set our judgement aside when we first meet another person. After all, everyone you meet has something to teach you, and there is the posibility of bringing value to each other’s lives. This won’t happen, though, if you insist on judging others before you have tried getting to know them. Give everyone a chance. Be openminded. Who knows where your next chance encounter with a stranger might lead?

If you don’t take control of your life..

…someone else will. This is why I feel so strongly about why we should become more self-aware, set goals in life and pursue them. It’s why we need passion, purpose and drive, or else life can become uneventful, dull and repetitive.

That is not to say that we need to have it all figured out, but we do need a certain level of direction in our lives. We need to know, roughly, where we are headed. With this awareness, we are less likely to be led astray or manipulated by others. We become stronger mentally, more focused and wiser. We are, essentially, better able to position ourselves to live the life of our dreams.

We also need to have interests which we are passionate about, as this gives us a break from the stresses of life. Being in control of our lives means that we will be immune to the doubts and criticisms of others, and have the strength to do whatever it is that makes our hearts sing. After all, when we follow our passion and share that which we create, we are inspiring others to have the courage to do the same.

Humans are creatures of habit, though. We like that which we know. Hence we develop routines which feel safe and also provide a source of comfort. We also don’t need to think too much when something is familiar. But there is a downside to the comfort of habit and routine, which is best summed up in a quote from the inimitable Charles Bukowski;

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so? ”


The unconquerable spirit

We all face challenges and go through difficult times. It’s a hard fact of life, but also a formative opportunity.  The way in which we respond to adversity can forge our character and make us stronger.

The truth is that each of us, alone, is responsible for our own life and the direction it takes. The power really is in our hands, and the sooner we realise this, the better. I’ll say it again; you are in control of  your life. When you realise this, wonderful things happen. Chief among these positive changes is the shedding of the victim mentality. You no longer feel helpless and powerless in tough times, and that things just happen to you. Simply put, you gain a new perspective. You become stronger mentally, more resilient and more confident. You then begin to see challenges as a small bump in the road which you will overcome.

When I am going through tough times, I revisit one of my favourite poems, Invictus by William Earnest Henley, which I would like to share with you below. Invictus itself is a Latin term and means to be unconquerable or unbeatable. It’s about an indomitable spirit and a refusal to accept defeat. It is also strength and perspective in the face of adversity, which makes it perfect for times when you find yourself lacking courage or strength after a setback. Take ownership of, and responsibility, for your decisions and actions…..then watch the magic happen as your life changes for the better. Things do not simply happen to you. Understand that you make things happen. You have the power. Use it wisely.

Invictus 

Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   
   
In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
   
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
   
It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul

	

Just be yourself

In the last post we looked at being kind, and being yourself, online. Today I would like to explore further the topic of authenticity.

Everywhere we look today, clever marketers and social media influencers are trying to manipulate us, albeit subtly. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how we should be thinking, acting, dressing and working. And we follow blindly, without stopping to question why we are being gently coerced in a particular direction. 

The alternative, authenticity and being yourself, has been heavily criticised in numerous blog posts and journal articles but I for one strongly believe that this is the most appropriate way to lead your life.

Everyone seems to be “faking it” until they “make it”. At the same time, they also strive to stand out from the crowd and be the exception. How is this supposed to work? They are complete opposites. You either join everyone else in faking it, in which case you will just be another body in a sea of fakers, or you stay true to your beliefs and values, be yourself,  and be the exception to the rule.

Faking it does have its merits, though. The commonly held belief among young people today is that, in order to succeed or gain approval, they must alter their behaviour and effectively become someone else. In this respect, faking it is a successful defence mechanism. After all, fear of rejection is no longer an issue when you conform to the expectations of others. It is, however, a less than ideal blueprint for how to live your life.

Of all the definitions of authenticity (and there are so very many!), the one that rings truest in my humble opinion is that of Aristotle. Aristotle, the great philosopher,  advised that we should strive to find the “Golden Mean”. This is the perfect balance of honesty and discretion, which are reliant on the context and circumstances in which you find yourself. 

In this respect, authenticity is about resisting the urge to become someone else, while staying true to your values. It’s also about self expression, but in moderation. That is where discretion comes in. Others do not want to hear all of your opinions and justifications, and everything that pops into your head. You can be yourself AND be discreet. It all depends on context and circumstances. 

I’ll end here with a quote which is particularly relevant;

In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act”

– Caroline Caldwell

The shortcut to greatness. ..

…is a myth. There is no secret, special formula or anything else. Sorry to burst your bubble. This may come as a surprise, because we are constantly being told that there is. Then again, those who usually claim to have all the answers usually have a book or a training course to sell too. Coincidence?!

The hard truth is that, in order to achieve success and greatness in your chosen arena, there must be hard work and effort. An awful lot of it. You have to do what others are not willing to. Consistently. Sacrifices and compromises will need to be made, and you will need to become resilient and persistent if you hope to persevere and overcome the obstacles and problems which you will encounter.

If you can do this, you will make progress. Progress not only with regards to your goals, but also your self awareness. You will, through all of the ups and downs and lessons learned, grow as a person.

Business publications and social media would have you believe that success can come quickly and bring tremendous riches. All that they are showing, though, is just the glamorous and appealing  end result and not the journey or the process itself. This is a shame, as the journey and process are what truly matter. This is where we are challenged to learn and grow, and discover who we truly are and what we are capable of. Gary Vaynerchuk tells us that “life is a marathon, not a sprint” and I couldn’t agree more. If you are going to be successful in pursuit of your goals, you will need patience and dogged determination. And you absolutely must fall in love with the journey and the process. 

Stop and smell the roses

Stop and smell the roses. For anyone unfamiliar with this idiom, it means taking time out of your day to notice, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of life. It involves a shift in your focus from all things work or business-related to the small things that often go unnoticed, such as the sights and sounds of nature as you cut through the park on the way to the office. It means developing a childlike curiosity which can help you to view the world from a different perspective, through new eyes. Furthermore, it can help you to rediscover how much life has to offer, and how much you appreciate it.

While smelling the roses may appear to run counter to the “Carpe Diem” philosophy recommended overwhelmingly in business literature, it can actually compliment it. We live increasingly busy lives, and are constantly reminded to “seize the day” and take action if we want to lead a successful and fulfilled life. While this is excellent advice and we should take action in the direction of our goals, there must be some moderation. We are so used to hearing that we need to work harder, devoting more time and effort to outwork the competition, that we often feel guilty when we do try and unwind. How often do we find ourselves reaching for a laptop, Ipad or smartphone to check our emails for something we may have missed while trying to relax?! This “always on” culture, worn by some as a badge of honour, can lead to stress burnout, loss of focus and drive and also damage our personal relationships.

This is where slowing down comes in. Smelling the roses, and taking some time out for yourself, can help to reduce stress and make us more appreciative of what we have. It also brings a sense of calm and relaxation. This can help to recharge our batteries so that we return to our professional lives and goals re-energised, motivated and with a renewed focus.

There is no need to pick one approach or the other in this case as they work so well together. Naturally, taking action in the direction of our goals will lead to a more fulfilling life, but there needs to be moderation and time out to appreciate everything which we have already and which life has to offer. Life is not about rushing from one goal to the next, but the journey itself and the process which helps us to reach our goals and become successful. There are so many wonderful experiences and valuable lessons which we will encounter on our journey, and this is why we sometimes need to slow down and take that break to savour them. It would be shame to miss out because we are in too much of a hurry.

 

Procrastination; Friend or Foe?

Procrastination has long had a bad reputation, with those who engage in this practice traditionally dismissed as being lazy, disorganised timewasters. The internet however, is awash with vlogs, blog articles and TED talks which aim to show procrastination in a positive light. Which brings us to the question; does procrastination deserve a second chance?

Procrastination, as I have discovered through personal experience, has the potential to be a very positive practice. At its best, it affords you the opportunity to complete small tasks which you may have been putting off. Stress levels can also be reduced, as you switch your focus temporarily from something challenging to something more enjoyable or relaxing. Following this, you might find yourself returning to the original problem or task refreshed and with a renewed  determination. This can in turn reduce wasted effort and increase focus and, ultimately, productivity. During this interlude and shift in focus and attention, you might find yourself learning something new or finding inspiration.

Furthermore, and this is my particularly true in my case, some people thrive under the pressure of a tight deadline which drives them to produce their best work. So, again, shifting your focus temporarily from the task in hand temporarily to something else could be a good thing if it serves to recharge your batteries and you subsequently return to the original task determined to succeed.

There are, however, an awful lot of if, buts, maybes, coulds, shoulds and woulds at play here. Procrastination’s ability to serve as a force of good or bad is really a question of potential. It has the potential to improve your life and make it easier, but it also has the potential to breed lazy, unmotivated, uninspired timewasting clockwatchers. The deciding factor? The individual.

As with anything else, it’s what you make of it. Procrastination can either be good or bad, positive or negative and it all depends on your attitude and behaviour. On the one hand, it can present an opportunity to reduce stress levels, get your creative juices flowing and provide a source of motivation and inspiration. On the other hand, though, it can breed laziness, disengagement and drain motivation.

If harnessed correctly, procrastination can be a powerful force for good on your journey towards success. It is, nonetheless your choice  as to where it leads, and if left untamed and allowed to run wild, it has the potential to seriously derail and undermine all of your efforts and good work to-date.

Procrastination. Good or bad, it’s up to you what you make of it.

Can we please stop advising people to Give 110%?!

It’s everywhere, from sports coaching to books and articles on business, psychology and self-help. We are being bombarded with the advice that, if we want to achieve great things we need to give 110%. Which makes no sense.

This idea that you too can become a successful entrepreneur, sports star, actor or whatever else you want to be by giving 110, 120, or even 150% sounds simple, cool and catchy. Hence it is spreading like wildfire, but it’s time that we contain it and put it out.

Maybe I am just being pedantic, but we can only give 100% effort. That is our maximum, no more. Effort depends on so many factors that you might feel like you are giving your all today, but find that you can give a little more tomorrow. These factors can range from getting enough rest or food to the level of knowledge which you possess.

Let’s take running as an example. I might be able to manage 25 minutes at a steady pace on the treadmill today, but a week later find myself completing 45 minutes. In that time, I haven’t discovered a mystical energy reserve which allowed me to give 110%, but more likely the improvement came about as a result of my body adapting to the demands of my training and a possible improvement in my rest, recovery and nutrition.

The same can be said of progress made from one week to the next in business and other arenas. It is doubtful that your success is driven by 110% effort, but rather an increase in knowledge, understanding and experience.

If you are giving your all, that means that you are giving 100%. no more, no less. If you walk away from whatever you are engaged in and still have some energy left in the tank, then it is unlikely that you gave 100% in the first place, but rather around 80% which was the most you could give at that point in time. A good night’s rest, some further reading or adequate hydration and you might be able to return the next day and truly give 100% effort.

I believe that in order to be successful in your field of interest or expertise, there is a formula which could help;

1 – Identify what it is that you want to achieve, alongside the behaviours and skills which you want to develop.

2 – Set goals, both short and long-term, do your research and formulate a plan of action.

3 – Take action. Set up regular check-ins which will allow you to review your progress and identify any areas in which improvements can be made. Make tweaks as and when you feel appropriate.

4 – Be consistent. Keep putting in the work. Bounce back from setbacks, and as you reach each of your goals, tick them off and replace them with more challenging goals.

5 – Repeat.

Consistent, focused effort and hard work, mixed with passion and dedication is a formula which can drive you towards success, so please can we change the conversation and give more sensible advice?!

 

Gratitude

Gratitude is infectious, and easy to practice. Try it. Take 5 minutes out of your day to stop and reflect on 3 things which you have to be thankful for. Make a note of them, either mentally, electronically or with good old pen and paper. Now, as your focus shifts to these opportunities for which you are grateful, you will discover even more to be appreciative of. This, in turn, has the power to improve your mood and outlook, making your days feel brighter and more fulfilling. Motivation levels are thus topped up, focus is shifted back to your goals and your progress towards them, and the small, seemingly mundane daily tasks which all add up to propel you towards your goals become a lot more pleasant.

Practicing gratitude can have a positive impact in a multitude of ways, providing a healthy boost to our brains, bodies, relationships and everything in between. It’s a healthy human emotion, with therapeutic powers and physiological benefits which are endless. The more you express gratitude, the more opportunities you will attract for which to be grateful. This is supported by science, neuroscience to be exact, which has revealed that the expression of gratitude can play a role in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter in the body, manufactured in the brain and intestines,  which is thought to regulate mood and social behaviour, as well as sleep, memory, digestion and sexual function.

In essence, as soon as you start to find reasons to be grateful, your mood lifts as your serotonin levels raise. This improves your mood and outlook further, opening your eyes to even more opportunities to express gratitude and improving your body language and behaviour in such a way as to potentially attract even more to be thankful for. This is known as a virtuous cycle, in which the initial benefit of expressing gratitude generates ever more opportunities to express gratitude, with our mood and behaviour improving to attract even more to be thankful for.

The relatively small step of finding 3 initial things for which to be grateful has the potential, over time, to play a huge role in guiding you on your journey towards success.

Resilience

We recently added optimism to the list of elements which can help us on our journey of self discovery and growth. But does it not sound a little too simplistic?! So far we have learned that we should adopt a growth mindset and an optimistic outlook before setting goals and taking action if we want to succeed. As for failure, which is inevitable in any undertaking, it should not be feared but rather welcomed as an opportunity to learn and grow. So, armed with all of the above, you should confidently go forth and be rewarded with the life of your dreams, right? The problem is that if it was as easy as that sounds, we would all be entrepreneurs, actors, singers or astronauts.

So, what is it that high achievers do or possess that allows them to achieve their goals and ambitions? This element goes by many names, such as resilience, perseverance, mental strength or persistence. There is also an excellent book on this subject by Angela Duckworth, which defines it as grit.

Resilience, or whichever definition you prefer, is a passion and perseverance for long-term goals but means different things to different people. For some it is a stamina, which gives the strength to rise from setbacks and finish what they started. For others, it is the knowledge that, as long as you keep learning and putting in the work, you will get back on the right track. In other words, it is a belief that failures and setbacks are just a bump on the road towards success. It is the drowning out of the negative comments and misgivings of naysayers, no matter how good their intentions, and having confidence and faith in your own ability.

Resilience is not something you are born with, which you either have or don’t. The good news is that it can be worked on and developed, and here are some of the ways which work for me when  things don’t go according to plan and failure pays a visit;

  • Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. This is where optimism, a positive outlook and perspective really help. Keep reminding yourself of your purpose and why you are doing this. What do you want to achieve? What skills and behaviours do you want to foster and develop? What kind of person do you want to become by the end of your journey? How is this done, though? ⇓⇓
  • Reflect. Remind yourself, ideally in a reflective journal,  of what you are grateful for, and the progress which you have made so  far. This will help steer you back towards a positive mindset. Once you have rediscovered your optimism, it’s time to look for reasons as to why a particular setback happened. This is healthier and more productive than making excuses and becoming disheartened.
  • Evaluate. With things back into perspective, your optimism returned and an awareness of what went wrong, it’s time to bring it all together with an honest evaluation. This is where you determine how you will be getting back on track and moving forward. What resources do you have available to you? Are there any gaps in your knowledge which you can address? Most importantly, though, you now have an opportunity to challenge yourself, venturing once more outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to do something which you think you can’t.

Obviously, this list is by no means exhaustive and others may use methods and strategies which work just as well, if not better. If you are one of these people, I would love to hear about your experiences and what works for you.

Resilience means different things to different people, but at its core it’s the faith that setbacks are only temporary, and actually offer an opportunity to learn and grow. Furthermore, it is the confidence that you will soon be back on course, stronger and better informed.

Optimism

Recently, we have looked at how setting goals, feeding your mind with positive input and taking action can help you on your journey of self discovery and achievement . There is, however, something that has the power to throw a spanner in the works and halt your progress, and that is pessimism. Pessimism is an attitude in which a person has the tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen. Its opposite, optimism, is what we should be striving for, defined as hopefulness and confidence about the future.

Unfortunately, you can’t just push a button and suddenly become an optimist. It takes hard work, but there are steps which we can take.

As a starting point, we need to look at reducing the negativity in our lives. This can be done, to a certain extent, by turning off the news and choosing positive sources of information which can take you closer to your goals. Avoiding gossip, while being easier said than done, is another important step which can be taken. Instead of complaining when things don’t go your way, get in the habit of looking for a solution.

Once you have started to minimise the negativity in your life, it’s time to think about how you can become an optimist;

  1. Practice gratitude – By practicing gratitude, we are reminded of the positives which we have in our lives, and it helps to put situations into perspective. You can practice gratitude by simply making a list of 3 things, every evening, of which you are grateful for. Over this time, this can be developed into a gratitude journal.
  2. Become better informed – Read books or journals, listen to podcasts or audiobooks, watch vlogs and youtube videos or seek networking opportunities. This will help increase your knowledge on a particular subject, potentially taking you closer to your goals if you use that knowledge.
  3. Take action – Identify one area in which you want to improve or which may be troubling you. Next, identify what you can do to make progress or solve the issue. Now make a plan to do 1 thing every day which will take you closer to your goal. In doing this, though, don’t forget to celebrate your successes.

 

In short, achievement and personal development occur when you foster the right attitude, namely one of positivity.

You are what you read

If there is one thing that many leaders and successful people have in common, it is a thirst for knowledge. Not all, but the majority of these people see their development as a life-long, continuous process and are constantly seeking to learn and grow before taking action. Others, however, prefer to skip the first part and just learn through experience, which is also a powerful teacher. That said, taking action without a good understanding of what you want to achieve is as reckless as it is bold. There is a fine balance between learning and making plans, and taking action which leads to learning experiences. You need a knowledge base, plans and goals but this all amounts to nothing if you don’t act upon them. As I have stated previously, we should be wary of spending too much time and attention on making plans, and be prepared to take action and learn from the experiences.

All day every day, we are bombarded with information, and demands are placed on our attention, but those who have an appetite for knowledge and learning are very deliberate in what they choose to focus on. Rather than reaching for the tv remote or a newspaper, they read a book, magazine or a blog article on a topic which interests them. Rather than binge-watch the latest drama series on Netflix, they will more likely be found watching TED talks, documentaries or Youtube videos on a topic related to their goals and development. The internet has created an explosion in resources, available in an instant and accessible from anywhere, that can help us on our journeys of self discovery and achievement. The greatest challenge, however,  lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. That is to say, we need to be careful in choosing which resources we will be devoting our time and attention to, focusing on feeding our minds with positive input which is of good quality. After all, that which we choose to feed our minds, in turn influences our thoughts, mindset, attitude, decisions and actions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you have goals which you are striving towards and you want to become successful in a particular area, that you select good quality sources of information which could help you on your journey of learning and development.

Education does not end when your time in the classroom does. We are naturally curious, and as such should be using that curiosity, and our free time, to constantly learn and push ourselves to become, and achieve, more. Read a book or magazine article written by a great philosopher, influential person or thought leader, watch a documentary or take advantage of the internet or your local library. Good quality resources offer the opportunity to expand your mind and help you grow.

Social media also has a role to play. Humans are social beings, so it helps to associate with influential people who are leaders in their particular field, while also networking with other like-minded people with whom to share and discuss ideas. LinkedIn is just one of many platforms which, if used wisely, has much to offer in this area.

In short, we should be more careful and deliberate when choosing what we pay attention to and how we spend our time. Great progress requires great effort and sacrifice after all.

Goals are not just something you see in sports

Goals are not just something a football player might score, but a valuable tool to guide us on our journey towards success, self-discovery and achievement. Without goals, there is a danger that we might find ourselves just drifting through life lacking purpose, direction and focus while falling far short of our potential. The real benefit of having goals and striving to achieve them, however, is not in the goal itself but in what we learn along the way and how we develop and grow on this journey.

“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It’s as simple as that.”

Earl Nightingale

In short, goals give us the power to take control of the direction of our lives, force us to learn and grow and provide a tool to measure success and achievement.

There are 2 different types of goals, long-term and short-term and both are essential. Long-term goals are sometimes referred to as BHAGs (Big, Hairy and Audacious Goals) and should be challenging yet achievable. Your long-term goal is your overall vision of success. However, your long-term goal comes at the end of a journey of hard work, consistent effort, self-discovery and achievement. Along this journey, there are a number of sign-posts and checkpoints. These are your short-term goals. Short-term goals are the stepping stones which lead you towards your long-term goals, so it is essential that they are related to one another.

Before you start thinking about potential goals, define what success will look like to you. Carefully consider what it is that you want to achieve long-term and how you will do this through smaller short-term goals. Be honest and realistic about the resources available to you, and try to identify the behaviours and skills which you will need to develop in order to achieve your overarching goal.

A goal must be important to you, and be related to your priorities. There must be value in achieving your goals, as this helps to increase motivation and commitment, provide a sense of urgency and get you back on track after a setback. Essentially, you should be taking each short-term goal in turn and considering why it is important to you, what value it offers and how it will help you get closer to achieving your long-term goal.

“Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life.”

Les Brown

Business literature, journals and the internet are full of recommendations as to the many different ways in which goals can be set. One of the most popular and highly recommended is the process of setting SMART goals, and it is on this process which we will be focusing. An effective way to create short-term goals is by making them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound).

Specific. There should be clarity in the definition of your goal. Goals are like signposts on the road to success, guiding you on a journey of self-discovery and achievement.

Measurable.  Be precise when determining how success will be measured (ie. generate ‘x’ amount of sales by ‘y’ date). With a way to measure your progress towards your goals, it becomes easier to identify and celebrate your successes while also identifying any areas for improvement.

Achievable.  As good as it may be to have a goal which stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone, you must be realistic and honest with yourself about whether it can be done. Too challenging, and it could negatively affect your confidence and halt your progress.

Relevant.  There should be a clear link between your goals and the direction in which you want to steer your life. Your goals should be building blocks or signposts towards success

Time-Bound.  There must be a timeline in which you want to achieve your long-term goals, with deadlines for the short-term goals along the way. This helps to create a sense of urgency.

With your goals, both long and short-term set, the next step is to write them down. A goal becomes real when you put it before you in writing. I choose to write mine in a series of positive statements starting with “I will…” and ending with a deadline “by….”

Accountability can also be helpful and provide extra motivation. This is not for everyone, but your goals can be shared with trusted friends or family. Some people find that this is another helpful way to create a sense of urgency and keep you on track. Others, however, prefer their privacy and would rather work in silence.

Simply stating that you want something to happen is wishful thinking or dreaming. For it to become a reality, you need a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and why. Then comes the goal-setting process, before planning and taking action, celebrating victories and reflecting on what you’ve learned along the way.

Embracing failure

Embrace failure. This is the catchy message we are bombarded with through business books, articles and social media outlets. What does it actually mean, though?

Failure can mean different things to different people, as everyone has their own idea of what success and failure look like. The dictionary, however, offers 2 definitions of failure, as either “the nonperformance of an assigned or expected action” or “a falling short of one’s goals”. For the purpose of this post, we will be using the second definition.

Failure can come in many different forms, and when it does we need to take time to reflect upon it and put it into perspective. Failure itself can come in the guise of bad decision making, an inability to change or adapt to circumstances, poor planning or poor execution and everything in between.

The danger with failure is that it has the potential to lead to further failure, unless we learn from it and use it to inform the changes which will lead to future success. Failure itself has such a negative connotation that many choose to hide theirs rather than take ownership of them and embrace them. This is perpetuated by the misconception that in embracing failure you are admitting defeat or lowering your standards. This is very damaging to your progress , as when you adopt this thinking, you become oblivious to the fact that sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and start again, armed with new knowledge gained from this failure.

Failure makes us feel vulnerable, but when we accept that everyone fails and embrace it as a fact of life, it can benefit us in many ways, the following just a few of them;

  • Learning. Most of what we learn is through trial and error, with some of our best lessons being learned as a result of failure.
  • Inspiration. When we reflect on our failures, they can serve to inspire and motivate us to try again, armed with what we have learned from the experience.
  • Humility. Failure reminds us that we are not infallible, but human.
  • Lower aversion to risk. Having failed, learned from the experience and moved forward, you become less fearful of taking calculated risks.

When failure is embraced properly, you overcome the associated fear and disappointment. In doing this, you move from a negative mindset to a positive one in which failure is regarded as a learning experience.

Who doesn’t love a list?!

Lists are everywhere and form an integral part of our daily lives, whether they be shopping lists, to-do lists, done lists, short term goals, long term goals, bucket lists or favourite quotes among many others. Personally, I love them and the done list is one of my favourites, as it forms a reminder of everything which I have accomplished during that day, week or month. Lists can also be helpful, saving memory space in our overloaded brains as well as valuable time. A shopping list is a good example of this; you identify what you need, write it down, put that list in your pocket and off you go. These are, however, not the type of list which we will be looking at today.

There is a type of list upon which we are becoming overly reliant. This is, in my humble opinion, to our detriment. What type of list am I thinking of as I write this? The list of what successful people do, read, eat…

Don’t get me wrong, they can be very interesting and motivational, but that’s about it. The problem with these success lists, is that the evidence of success and achievement is deeply personal and specific to that individual. I can adopt all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s behaviours, training routine and eating habits but that won’t give me the same results and turn me into a star footballer.  There is also the matter of context; what works in professional sports will not always be transferrable to another domain, such as business. Another question is raised over the validity of the evidence. These lists are often based on generalisations and similarities, pointing at particular behaviours or traits that a groups of successful people share. There is often a lack of scientific support for these findings, which tend to be anecdotal. As mentioned before, they can also be rather specific to a particular context and bear little relevance to the situation in which you find yourself. Then we have the small matter of change. Times change. The world evolves and changes. Technology advances and changes at a rapid rate. These particular lists, however, do not always account for this. A quick google search on Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg  will bring up plenty of lists, many of which deal with their rise to eminence. What they do not take into account, though, are their circumstances and the climate in which they released their groundbreaking products. It is simply not possible to follow a list and launch another Apple or Facebook today, in the same way that Jobs or Zuckerberg did all those years ago.

The problem is that these success lists are comforting. In an age where everything is fast, from our food to our information, it’s encouraging to be offered a shortcut to success. The truth, though, is that there is no shortcut. If you want to be successful, you need to take action but be prepared to fail and then learn from your experiences. There are no substitutes for hard work and effort. Rather than focusing on what successful people do, focus on your strengths and abilities and stop trying to be someone else. As Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,”

Thank you, as always for reading. If you agree, or disagree, with the above please feel free to leave a comment

Lights, Camera…ACTION!!

Having reflected on your current situation, and come to the realisation that change is necessary in order to grow, it is important to set appropriate goals. If possible, also identify the skills and behaviours which you will need to improve or develop.

From there; research. Whether reading, watching or listening to blogs, vlogs, books, audiobooks, podcasts or whichever medium you prefer, researching and gathering information is the logical next step. All the best plans and research, however, will come to nothing, unless you act upon them.

Knowledge is, of course, important, but it can only lead to meaningful change and progress if you act upon it.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”

 –  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

A simplified way to look at the process above could be something like this;

  • Determine which areas you would like to make changes in
  • Set your goals and identify the steps which will take you closer to them. This includes identifying and working on the key behaviours and skills which will help you on your journey.
  • Do the preparatory work; read, research, plan and gather resources which you feel you may need.
  • Take action
  • Document your journey, paying attention not only to successes but also the lessons learned along the way. This is essential as it offers a blueprint as to how to maintain your momentum or recover after a setback.

There is no such thing as the perfect plan, or the perfect time to act upon it, so don’t waste time hunting for it or waiting for inspiration to strike. Just act on the plan which you have. This can lead to gaining momentum, courage, experience, confidence and motivation. It is far easier to get started and keep going if you take baby steps. Experience is key, as it is an excellent teacher. If things don’t turn out as you would have liked, learn from the experience and try again.

Furthermore, y taking action, you embark on a voyage of discovery. What works for me is to break my goals down into small actions or steps and work on one or two each day.

Failure, or more precisely the fear of failure, is what stops a lot of great people in their tracks. It is, whether you like it or not, an inevitable by-product of taking action. Not everything will work out the way you envisaged. Don’t let this deter you from taking action towards your goals, though. When failure comes, embrace it like you would an old friend. Treat it as a learning experience. Reflect on it and see what you can learn from it in order to move forward wiser and better informed.

“The possibilities are endless once we decide to act and not react”

 – George Bernard Shaw

As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment or share. The next few posts will be looking at the dangers of lists and looking for shortcuts, and also embracing failure

Visualisation and the Law of Attraction

Now that we have touched on the brain and how we learn, it’s time to look closer at the mind and what it is capable of. When exploring the power and potential of the mind, it is inevitable that the Law of Attraction will be encountered, alongside the power and benefits of visualisation. Well, what are they?

The Law of Attraction is a universal law which states that everyone has the ability and potential to attract things into their life through their thoughts, intentions and actions. In short, you attract whatever is on your mind. You will hear this expressed in many different ways, among them;

  • As you think, so shall you become
  • You attract what you feel, fear and think about
  • What consumes your mind, controls your life

Essentially, you have the potential to become or attract whatever you focus on. As the second point above hints at, however, the mind has the potential to attract negativity as well as positivity.

Visualisation is a similar concept, in that you first decide what you want to become or have, then focus on how you are going to achieve it before picturing it clearly in your mind. This vision will then become a reality. In other words, if you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand.

Does that not sound a little to easy or simplistic? Yet that is what endless self-help articles, books and programmes will tell us, and we love to hear it because we live in a time where hard work is shunned in favour of quick fixes. And hard work is definitely needed in order for visualisation or the Law of Attraction to actually produce positive results.

As we have seen, the Law of Attraction and Visualisation both work in a very similar way; you decide what you want, focus your mind on how it can be achieved or obtained and it will happen in due course.  There are 2 essential elements to their success, however which have been overlooked.

The first oversight is a person’s mental attitude. If you have the power to attract whatever you focus your mind on, then it stands to reason that there exists the potential to attract negativity into your life if your mind is filled with fears and insecurities. Therefore, optimism or a positive mental attitude is essential. After all, a negative mind cannot attract positive results. How does this work? Well, a positive mind leads to positive thoughts and positive behaviours which have the potential to attract positive results. Likewise, a negative mind affects our thoughts and behaviour negatively and can potentially lead to undesirable results. So, before anything can be visualised it is important to confront any fears and insecurities which could potentially derail the process.

The second oversight? Work. Yep, the dreaded W. As with anything else, having a positive mental attitude and visualising success is just the first step. You have to put the hard work in. It’s not enough to just believe and live as though you have already achieved your goal, but you also need to ACT. This is the final step and where a lot of people fall short. You do the initial work which leads to a more optimistic and positive outlook. From there, you decide what it is that you want and how you can get it. At this point, that which you are focusing on is merely a dream. It is only when you start to take action that your dream becomes a goal which can be achieved. Until then, it is merely wishful thinking.

In short, optimism plus a clear idea of what you want to achieve and the hard work needed to make happen is the recipe for success.

Thank you for reading. As always, please feel free to leave a comment or share your thoughts and experiences