The Attitude of Gratitude Revisited

It’s Thanksgiving week. A lot is going in my life personally and in our country and the world. I decided to go back to see what I had written about thankfulness in the past. Two years ago, almost to the day, I posted what I’m reposting today. This was pre-pandemic if you can remember those days! I had just spoken at a church that week and I’m referencing that talk in the post.

Why Be Grateful?

There are more reasons to be grateful then there is space to write about but I shared four in particular:

First, The attitude of gratitude is good for you. Studies have shown that consistent gratitude is good for your mental health and physical well-being. Grateful people are better looking! Think about the most ungrateful person you know. Picture their face. Now picture a consistently grateful person. Who looks better? Grateful people have more friends because gratitude is attractive of positive relationships. Grateful people get more stuff because it’s way more fun to give to a grateful person.

Second, the attitude of gratitude is aligned with reality. The more we align our thinking and living with reality (some call it truth), the better our lives will be. This reality is that everything you have is a gift. I know you’ve all worked hard and earned your way. But, think of this question, how hard did you work to start your heart in your mother’s womb? Or, think of this question, how hard did you work to make sure your parents met? With everything that had to happen, the fact that any of us is even here is a miracle. Our lives are a gift, gratitude is the appropriate response to a gift. Your mama taught you that.

Third, the attitude of gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. We are living in a culture of entitlement (word nerd alert): “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Entitlement is like a poison that withers people and cultures. It hollows them out and makes them weak. Entitlement is the epitome of ingratitude. Developing gratitude is the antidote. For the sake of ourselves, our children and our culture, we need to become a grateful people.

Fourth, the attitude of gratitude is a mark of obedience. The apostle Paul writes in two places in the New Testament of the Bible: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be Thankful.” Colossians 3:15. And, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18. God’s commands always have a practical “why.” See the first three reasons for the attitude of gratitude for examples

How Can We Be Grateful?

I approached this question from three angles.

First, how can I have gratitude when bad stuff is happening to me? This is where the rubber meets the road for most of us. We all know about bad stuff happening in our lives. “Feel the burn” is a way of looking at the physical suffering of exercise as a positive thing. It means that our endurance is increasing. The physical suffering of exercise produces endurance that proves itself on the field or court when you perform. Seeing that progress of endurance and improved performance makes you feel good about the result like, “maybe there’s hope for me after all!” The same is true with character (check out Romans 5:1-5 in the New Testament, google it).

Second, how can I develop gratitude? Simply put, train your brain. Experts say we have 50K – 80K thoughts per day. Wow! Fortunately, our brains filter those thoughts so that we are often aware of only a fraction of them. The filter you have is either developed by your circumstances or you can adjust it yourself by what you think about. Your life gravitates in the direction of your most dominant thoughts like a flower grows toward the sun. We become what we think most about.

You have the ability to choose what to think about. As the apostle Paul said, again, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” Try keeping a daily journal of what went well today and what am I thankful for. Study that journal on a weekly basis. That will help train your brain and adjust your filter.

Finally, how can I express gratitude? Use your words. Say “please” and “thank you” often. Use your gifts. When you use the gifts you’ve been given (physical or spiritual) it honors the giver. Finally, use your body. You had to be there yesterday to get the experience but suffice it to say we practiced expressing our gratitude for God and his goodness in the same way we express our excitement over our sports teams.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Accomplished!

The late CEO of PRIDE Industries, Mike Zigler, loved to tell stories about employees who would come up to him in the hall at the office with a big grin on their face, pull out a utility bill, hold it up to his face and say, “Mike, I paid this!” You see, Mike personified the mission of PRIDE Industries which is to create employment for people with disabilities. Those stories were about people who, because of their disability, had never had a job before. They were proud to have accomplished paying their first utility bill on their own, so they just had to tell Mike! And he loved it!

I had a conversation just the other day with another leader. She has quite a story of her own. She is a recovering addict who spent at least a year living homeless on the streets. She has clearly turned her life around. She not only got a job and kept it, but she has advanced past the level of lead to assistant manager and is doing a great job. Part of our conversation was about what motivates her to work hard even when it doesn’t always feel like her peers are pulling the same load. She said that she loves the feeling of accomplishment so much that she will get up and do what she may not feel like doing but needs to be done even if nobody else is doing it. That’s the “Do side of Self-Control.”

What Does It Mean?

To “accomplish” means to achieve or complete successfully. I think we all love to complete things successfully. That’s why so many people go into lines of work that produce a product that you can step back at the end of the day, look at, and say, “I did that.” Whether you’re baking bread, building houses or bridges or skyscrapers, or writing a book, there is a feeling of pleasure in finishing it. I even feel that when I close the cover on a book I’ve just finished reading. Accomplishment feels good.

Why does it feel so good to accomplish something? There is a physiological explanation. The brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. So when you plan and know you’re going to work for something, you’re in a biological position to feel good. Each milestone gives you another dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep going with the job. Another reason is that accomplishment taps into one of our intrinsic motivators – Autonomy. Completion of each task can make us feel better about ourselves because it proves to us that we’re in control of our own destiny and competent enough to achieve our goals. We did something.

What Does It Mean to You?

Thomas Edison once said, “There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish some[thing]!” John Maxwell included that quote in his book Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. It’s in his chapter on the shift from “Maintaining to Creating” where he’s talking about mental blocks to making that shift. The specific mental block in view where he quotes Edison is the one that says, “Follow the Rules.” After quoting Edison, Maxwell adds the following note, “Most revolutionary ideas have been disruptive violations of set rules.”

I can hear people of a certain personality type cheering and saying, “Yes! Let’s break some rules and get something new done!” But I can also hear others saying, “No, no, no, no, the rules are our friends. They’re there for a reason.” Accomplishment for each of those people will look different from the other. But it is still accomplishment and it still feels good. Do you check a box or do you cross the item off your list? Have you ever written something down that you already finished just so you could feel the pleasure of checking the box or crossing it off? It feels good to finish something.

Since it feels so good to accomplish something (and who doesn’t like to feel good?), let me leave you with two questions. First, why wouldn’t you organize your day around accomplishing things? Second, why wouldn’t you celebrate those accomplishments in some way? Here’s a bonus question for you leaders (BTW leadership is influence, if you have influence in anyone’s life, you’re a leader). Why wouldn’t you celebrate the accomplishments of those you lead?

Off Course

Small changes can have huge consequences.

In 1979 a passenger jet carrying 257 people left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, there was a minor 2-degree error in the flight coordinates. This placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots thought they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before. They had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Sadly, the plane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board. It was a tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees.

One Degree Off Course

Experts in air navigation have a rule of thumb known as the 1 in 60 rule. It states that for every 1 degree a plane veers off its course, it misses its target destination by 1 mile for every 60 miles you fly. This means that the further you travel, the further you are from your destination. If you’re off course by just one degree, after one foot, you’ll miss your target by 0.2 inches. Trivial, right? But…

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet. Not huge, but noticeable.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet. One degree is starting to make a difference.
  • If you veer off course by 1 degree flying around the equator, you’ll land almost 500 miles off target!

That would be like heading for Chicago but landing in Memphis instead. That would be inconvenient, wouldn’t it? Off course can be inconvenient or deadly like the New Zealand flight. I’ve read that commercial aircraft are off course 90 percent of the time. Turbulence and other factors cause them to go off course but constant feedback from the instruments allows the pilot to make adjustments and return to the flight plan.

We can get distracted and get off course in our lives and careers as well. Regular instrument checks and adjustments are a good idea.

Replace “Off” with “Change”

What if we took the same principle of “one degree” and replaced “Off Course” with “Change Course?” Now we have a whole new conversation. Now we’re talking about making an intentional change in the trajectory of our life. The same principle applies. A slight change of one degree can make a huge difference. That’s encouraging. You don’t necessarily have to do a complete about-face to make a big difference.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about a time when he wanted to eat healthier. In a section of the book that talks about the power of our environment on our habits, Clear tells how one small change made a huge difference. He used to buy apples and put them in the crisper in his fridge . . . never to be seen again until they were rotten and had to be thrown out. The simple change? He started putting the apples in a big bowl on the kitchen counter where he could see them every time he came into the kitchen. Not a huge about-face, a slight change, but now he is eating the apples instead of throwing them away.

Whether we’re off course or changing course, a slight shift can make a huge difference. That can be a warning or an encouragement depending on your perspective. Which is it for you?

Believe!

I like to say, “You only truly believe that which activates you.” In other words, you can say you believe it’s going to rain, but if you leave the house without your umbrella, do you really believe it? Belief leads to action (by the way inaction is an action for our purposes just like not making a decision is a decision). Since results come from actions there is a direct connection between what you believe and the results you’re getting. W. Edwards Deming said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” You could say something similar about our lives.

We get the results we get in life largely because of our B.S. Funny, what first comes to mind when we see those initials often describes our Belief Systems, which is what I mean by B.S. Many people are held back in life because of faulty or limiting beliefs. Beliefs like, “I could never do that,” or, “Nothing good could come from this,” or, “I have to be certain of the outcome before I do that,” will lead you to act (or not act) in certain ways. Voila! You have your results.

Actions Not So Much

In business we want results. If we don’t like the results we’re getting, we work to change people’s actions. It seems to make sense because you can draw a straight line from actions to results. The problem is that if you make people act outside of their beliefs, they may change for a short time, but they will usually snap back to their previous actions that align with their beliefs pretty quickly. It isn’t enough, by the way, to get them to “believe” that if they don’t do this or that, they will get a beating!

We can use “carrots” and “sticks” to “motivate” people into certain actions. But real change will come from addressing their beliefs. For example, let’s say I’m a hospital housekeeper. I’m in my area, doing my thing but I never see my supervisor. They never come to my area to see how I’m doing, to see if I need anything, to see if I’m doing my job right or not. What will I believe about the importance of my work or about whether or not quality matters?

On the other hand, if my supervisor comes two or three times a day and provides support and constructive feedback, what will I believe about the importance of my work and about whether or not quality matters? Can you feel the difference? So can our people.

I Believe What I Believe

True. But where do those beliefs come from? In my example above, I believe what I believe about my work based on my experience with my supervisor. Our experiences inform if not shape our beliefs.

A good friend of mine grew up with a father who was critical and demoralizing. There was one particular event in his early life that crippled his belief system about himself. Later, as an adult, he was talking to a counselor who had him revisit that crippling memory.  “This time,” he said, “Imagine it like this …” and he gave my friend a new way to imagine the event that turned it into a positive. This new way of “experiencing” that event led to a new belief system that truly helped my friend.

Athletes use something called “visualization” to help them prepare for their events. It’s a form of mental practice and is based on the reality that the mind doesn’t make a huge distinction between real and imagined activity. An athlete can imagine performing a certain way over and over until that imagined experience boosts their confidence (belief system) and alters their performance (actions and results). If athletes can do it, so can we.

On April 25, 2014, I heard an interview with musical artist Jewel talking about her song, “Hands.” She said, “I was homeless at the time and I was shoplifting . . . I realized I couldn’t get track of my thoughts, but I could watch what my hands were doing, and your hands are the servants of your thoughts. And I thought if I could see what my hands are doing and change what my hands are doing maybe I can change my life. Which was really learning to control my thoughts because its the only power I had. That’s how my life turned around.”

What Now?

If you want to know what you believe, look at what you’re doing. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, ask yourself what B.S. is driving those actions. Then ask yourself where that B.S. came from. Then, like my friend, like Jewel, like athletes, imagine a different experience that will support a better belief system. It may just turn your life around.

“Hello? Are You There?”

I heard a version of that question from Suzi just the other night. We were watching the news on TV. She had her tablet. I had my laptop open and two cellphones (personal and work) on the arm of the sofa next to me. She had said something to me right when the anchor was making an important point in his story and my personal phone signaled I had received an email. Here’s the thing, I couldn’t tell you right now the important point the anchor made (or even what the story was about), the email turned out to be junk that I deleted, and, worst of all, I didn’t get what Suzi had said. “Hello, are you there?” I was 0 for 3.

How To Multitask Effectively

You Can’t. (vocalize that punctuation mark, “period”) I know you disagree with me because multitasking one of your special skills. But, the truth of the matter is that “multitasking” is about computers running multiple programs at the same time. We are not wired like that. We can only give our attention to one thing at a time. We can switch back and forth rather quickly, but one thing at a time. Rapid switching actually produces a kind of brain chemical high that can become addictive. That brain chemical high makes it understandable that people like to believe they are multitasking.

The sad truth is that the same brain chemical high also reduces cognitive function, attention, clarity of thinking, and decision-making proficiency. That means we miss more when we’re “multitasking.” We miss important details that can lead to mistakes of all kinds. What’s possibly even worse, we miss what people are saying to us.

How To Converse Effectively

Be Present. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the car alone with one of my children (all over 20) sitting next to me and they’re on their phone. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Where are you?”
My child: (pause)  “Huh?”
Me: “Where are you?”
My child: “I’m right here” in a what-do-you-mean? tone of voice.
Me: “We’re here together in the car but, your mind is wherever that person you’re texting or that video you’re watching is .”
My child: “But dad, it was important. OK. I’m done.”
Me: “Hello, nice to see you.”

Yes. I’ve really had that conversation. The point is, you can be present physically and literally a thousand miles away in your mind. That does not make for good conversation. What opportunities are we wasting when we are not present?

Jim Elliot (if you don’t know who he was, Google him and the movie “End of the Spear”) said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I want to do a better job of taking that advice. That means I’ll have to put down (and probably silence) my phone(s), physically turn my body toward what- or who-ever I’m being present for, and consciously travel back in my mind to where my body is.

Be Focused. Getting present is one thing. Staying present is a matter of focus. When you adjust the focus on your camera, the image you see through your lens comes into clear view. Our phone cameras have autofocus, our brains don’t. We have to consciously, intentionally put our sustained attention on what we’re doing. Studies show that our attention spans are shrinking because of all the information available to us. I’m so bad. In many conversations, someone will bring up a question or something we don’t know and I’m quick to grab my phone and say, “Hey Google, What’s …?” The answer is right there. Maybe it’s better to live in the question for a while.

Let me recommend an exercise that has proven to increase presence and improve our ability to focus. Call it whatever you want but try it. Set aside 2 – 5 minutes every day, step away from all the distractions. Leave your phone on silent in another room. Don’t be near your computer or TV or radio. Close your eyes and be silent. Practice paying attention. You can focus on your breathing, or the thoughts that come to your mind (just notice them, don’t follow them), or the sounds you hear around you. You can even mull over a meaningful quote.

Like physical exercise, repeating that exercise daily will strengthen our ability to make ourselves present and to focus. Let’s find out what we’ve been missing!

Leading Change – Part 1

Here’s something I’ve often wondered about. According to Daniel Pink and others, people are intrinsically motivated by “mastery.” Mastery means getting better at things. There is an almost universally inherent desire, a drive if you will, to get better at things we enjoy. Yet, people also seem, almost universally, to hate change. How can both be true?  Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” Not all change is growth, but all growth is change. How can people drive for improvement and growth but, at the same time resist change?

I think John Maxwell is on to something when he wrote, “People do not naturally resist change; they resist being changed.” When the change is something I initiate because I see the benefits and it’s something I enjoy or at least want to improve, I’m all for it. But, if the change feels out of my control, or is being imposed on me, I resist. Maxwell writes about a two-frame cartoon in which the leader asks, “Who wants change?” and every hand is raised. But in the second frame, when he asks, “Who wants to change?” not one hand is raised.

We want the benefits of positive change, but don’t want the pain of making any changes ourselves. If we want our team or organization to grow or improve, that will require change. How do we as leaders create change? If our people feel like it’s being imposed on them, they will be resistant. How, then, do we lead change? A good starting place is to understand why people resist change. Here are two of four reasons to consider. (We’ll cover the others next week)

Awkward and Self-Conscious

I’d like you to try something. Fold your hands together with your fingers interlaced. Now, look at your hands. Which thumb is on top? No big deal, right? Now, reverse that. Interlace your fingers with the other thumb on top. How does that feel? Awkward, right? I’ll bet you even had to think for a second to do it. I use that exercise when I teach habit formation. So much of what we do is by habit and changing it feels unnatural and awkward. I’ll bet your first impulse when you interlaced your fingers the unnatural way was to switch back to what was comfortable.

Whenever we learn something new, it feels awkward and unnatural at first. If you’ve ever played a sport or an instrument you know what I mean. We do drills to turn awkward new skills into habits. When that happens, the skill you’re focusing on becomes part of your game or part of your music-making. It’s no longer awkward, it’s a habit.

The problem is that nobody likes to feel awkward especially in front of other people. We become self-conscious and embarrassed. That’s why people are often more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions. Author and speaker, Marilyn Ferguson put it like this, “It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear … It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. there’s nothing to hold on to.”

What Will Be Lost

Our youngest son, Jordan, loves clothes. Every so often we’d see him come home wearing a new outfit. He loves bargains, too. He always brags about how little he paid for this or that article of clothing. One of his favorite clothing outlets is the Goodwill store. He finds all kinds of treasures there. Paying little means collecting a lot. One day, after seeing inside his closet and drawers, my wife informed him that he could no longer simply add to his collection. Now, “if you buy something, you have to get rid of something.” That actually put a stop to the new stuff for a while. He didn’t want to let go of anything.

People often fear change because they are focused on what they will have to give up. Authors Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura have written about this.

“The fact is, we all carry a certain amount of counterproductive cerebral baggage that weighs s us down … and hold s us back.

Our loads include everything from once valid beliefs and practices that have outlived their usefulness and applicability–to misinformation and misconceptions that we’ve accepted (and even embraced) without much examination or thought.

Why care about “baggage?” Because it negatively impacts us, the people we work with, the environment we work in, and the results we get. Simply stated, whatever we accept and believe determines how we behave…and how we behave determines what we achieve (or don’t achieve).

Their solution? “Our brains are like closets. Over time they are filled with things we no longer use–things that don’t fit. Every once in a while they need to be cleaned out.”

Harvey and Ventura are correct, of course, about the need to clear out the old stuff. The problem is that people don’t usually focus on the new stuff that might be better. They usually focus more on how hard it will be to give up their old stuff.

Hello, Interesting to Meet You

Last week I quoted John Maxwell who said, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” Problems are not usually something we face alone. So, problems not only introduce us to ourselves, they also introduce us to others. American novelist and retired physician, Tess Garritsen said, “There is no better test of character than when you’re tossed into crisis. That’s when we see one’s true colors shine through.” Garritsen was talking about how she develops characters in her stories, but it’s the real-life truth of that statement that makes characters compelling.

What do we learn about others when we face problems? There are, for example:

People who make problems worse

The question here is what’s in the person’s bucket? Are they carrying water or gasoline? Are they a fire-lighter or a fire-fighter? Some people seem to find joy in stoking fires to make them bigger. The most insidious of these are the arsonists posing as firefighters. These are the people who create or stoke a fire in order to appear as the hero who puts it out. These people are dangerous to any organization.

People make problems worse by their attitude. They are victims and constantly looking for someone to blame. People make problems worse by their emotions. They are hotheaded or negative. Either one is a detriment to progress. People make problems worse by their inaction or wrong action. They either freeze or head in the wrong direction. Either one trips everyone else up.

People who become problem magnets

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Magnetism” which states, “Who you are is who you attract.” If someone sees nothing but problems, guess what they get in life, more problems. If someone sees nothing but possibilities, guess what they get in life, more possibilities.

The problem with people who see nothing but problems is that they tend to attract more people who see nothing but problems. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging. We need people who can help us see potential pitfalls. But people who see nothing but pitfalls almost certainly begin to create them.

People who give up in the face of problems

Business Magnate, billionaire, and philanthropist Ross Perot said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot away from a winning touchdown.” Solutions are not always easy to find, but there is always a solution. People who give up wind up putting the problem back in your lap. If you wind up finding the solution, why do you need them?

Our company was asked to take over servicing several additional buildings. It was the Friday before service was to begin the next Monday when I learned we couldn’t find a piece of equipment we needed in each building in order to start servicing it. I personally walked through the six other buildings where the equipment was supposed to have been last seen to no avail. When we couldn’t find the equipment, one of my colleagues suggested we would have to delay the start. That wasn’t an option for me. I made a phone call and drove an hour away to pick up what we needed from our supplier. We started on time that Monday.

People who use problems as a stepping-stone for success

In their book, Cradles of Eminence, Victor and Mildred Goertzel wrote about their study of the backgrounds of more than four hundred highly successful men and women who would be recognized as brilliant in their fields. the list included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. Here are some of their interesting findings:

  • Three-fourths of them as children were troubled by poverty, broken homes, or difficult parents who were rejecting, overly possessive, or domineering.
  • Seventy-four of the eighty-five writers of fiction or drama surveyed and sixteen of the twenty poets came from homes where they saw tense psychological drama played out between their parents.
  • More than one-fourth of the sample suffered physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or other crippling disabilities.

What makes the difference between people who overcome such circumstances and people who are overcome by them? They didn’t see their problems as stumbling blocks. They saw them as stepping stones. They understood that problem solving was a choice, not a matter or circumstance.

When I train new or young leaders, I emphasize to them that they need to be solution finders because problem solving is the quickest way to gain leadership.

Personal Growth and Character

Do you know the difference between a tornado and a zamboni? The difference is in what they leave behind. A zamboni comes out on the torn up ice after a period of hard skated hockey and glides over the surface leaving behind a glistening smooth surface. A Tornado, on the other hand, smashes into the most peaceful, idyllic towns and leaves behind destruction and death.

People can be like zambonis or like tornadoes. I’m sure you’ve met both kinds. I know I have. What makes things challenging at work is when one person has both characteristics. For example, they may be a zamboni in their people skills, very friendly, always willing to help, but a disaster when it comes to the work they produce. On the flip side of that is the person who is amazing at what they produce but leave dead bodies in their wake when it comes to people.

We’re talking about character and competence, who we are and what we can do. Someone once said that character and competence are like the two wings of an airplane. You need them both if you want to fly. I believe that. I would rather work with someone who is pretty good at what they do (especially since it’s easier to teach skills than character), and of really good character than someone who is really good at what they do and a disaster when it comes to character.

What Difference Does Character Make?

“Character growth determines the height of your personal growth.” John C. Maxwell.

When I interview people for leadership positions, I don’t ask them a lot of questions about skills. I may ask one or two to make sure they know what they say they know (actually, that’s a character issue, too), but mostly I focus on questions about character. “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” or, “Could you tell me about at time when you saw a co-worker struggling in their job?” I can teach you the skills you need to do the job.

Character matters because character makes you solid on the inside. Like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, a person with no character will eventually implode. But strong character makes you resilient while allowing you to grow.

Some lists of desirable character traits have been developed like the “Pillars of Character” from the “Character Counts” educational program for public schools:

Trustworthiness
Respect
Responsibility
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Some add Empathy as well

Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed identifies these traits as more important than IQ for success:

Grit
Curiosity
Self-control
Social Intelligence
Zest
Optimism
Gratitude

Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who possessed these qualities?

Can Character Change?

I believe it can! The bottom line requirement for a change in character is for a person do deal with their personal B.S. (Belief system). In other words you change the way you think about yourself and the world around you. How?

One way this happens is through a life-changing encounter with someone or something, something so traumatic or amazing happens in your life that it alters your world-view completely. A murdering, self-righteous, religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus had such an encounter with Jesus Christ. He became the Apostle Paul after that encounter.

Another way that character can change is by intentionally putting yourself through a series of exercises that begin to develop a new mental muscle memory. Those in the religious world might call these exercises spiritual disciplines. Others may call them Habit Formation. The first one to work on is your belief about whether or not you can change. Start by changing your self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m just direct whether they like it or not,” which indicates an unchangeable state of being, try saying, “that comment seemed to land more like a punch than constructive advice.” That would allow you room to think about how to offer the same information differently so the person hearing it would be more inclined to receive it.

Competence and Character, the two wings of the personal growth airplane. You can become a zamboni in both.

How to Turn Poop Into a Positive

“Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue.” Have you ever heard that saying? I loved it the first time I heard it and still do. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other days you feel like a depository of pigeon poop. Everyone feels that way because we all have good days and bad days. We all have really awesome experiences and really horrible experiences. The difference between people who grow and everyone else is in what they do with the bad experiences.

“No pain, no gain” is about when you experience pain because you’re working out. That’s on purpose. You intentionally do things that make your muscles sore because you want to get stronger. What about when you experience pain that’s not on purpose, when someone just poops on you? John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth writes about “The Law of Pain.” That law says, “Good Management of bad experiences leads to great growth.”

Here’s an Example

A friend of mine, despite being great at what he does, found himself out of a job not long ago. The COVID-19 pandemic so negatively impacted his industry that he lost his job. Instead of sitting around whining or feeling sorry for himself, my friend decided to let people know he was available to work by writing a social media post. The theme? “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” It was a beautifully written piece but I don’t know if it ever got posted. A recruiter was asked to look it over and provide feedback before my friend posted it. That feedback led to a new job with that recruiter’s company. How’s that for turning poop into a positive (or lemons into lemonade)?!

As Warren Lester said, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

How Do You Turn Lemons to Lemonade?

First, understand these truths:

  1. Everyone has bad experiences
  2. Nobody likes bad experiences
  3. Few turn bad experiences into a positive.

So, how do you become one of the few? I wish I could tell you there are three or five steps to turning poop into a positive. It boils down to a choice. You can choose what to think about. For example, think about a blue sock. Now think about a bowl of lemons. See, you can make yourself think about what you choose.

You can also choose how you think about something. Take that bowl of lemons, for example; maybe you would have preferred a bowl of oranges. How will you think about that? Are you sad or angry that you got the wrong fruit? Maybe you don’t even like lemons. Or, do you see an opportunity? You could make lemonade, sell it at a lemonade stand and make new friends and enough money to buy oranges! You can choose how to think about good and bad experiences. Often the way we think about the experience helps determine how it turns out.

Another Perspective

I’m a person of faith. The Bible has some interesting things to say on this topic. For example:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials because you know that tribulation works patience…” James 1:2-4

It also says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Romans 5:3-5

This is not passivity or defeatism. This is someone who recognizes that bad things happen to everyone, and that good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.

How do you turn poop into a positive? Choose to. After all, poop makes great fertilizer!

What Difference Does Discipline Make?

I am a lousy golfer. When people ask me if I golf, I usually say I’m a “corporate golfer.” I have only golfed at company sponsored events with vendors or clients and a couple times with my brother-in-law. Right there is part of the reason I’m a poor golfer. I don’t golf consistently. I don’t practice my swing at the driving range or my short game on the putting green. Consistency is only part of the reason I’m a poor golfer, though. I don’t love the game enough to spend the vast amounts of time and money necessary for consistency.

Does Discipline Matter?

There are differing opinions about the role of consistency and discipline in personal growth. John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, writes about “The Law of Consistency” which says, “Motivation gets you going, Discipline keeps you growing.” You also have Malcolm Gladwell’s misunderstood popularization of the 10,000 hours theory in his book Outliers. He writes about “The 10,000 hour rule” which seems to imply that greatness comes from 10,000 hours of practice. And, of course, Aristotle’s famous quote, “We are what we consistently do. Excellence, is therefore not an act, but a habit.”

On the other hand, you have articles like “Why You Don’t Need More Discipline” which explains the perspective of the late world-renown strength coach, Charles Poliquin. He said “There is no such thing as discipline. There is only love…You are the result of what you love most.” He said, for example, “If you love pizza more than you love the thought of having the body you always wanted, then you might choose pizza and feel like you failed yourself by not being disciplined to go to the gym, but really all you did was choose pizza over the gym because you love pizza more.”

To add another layer is the idea quoted by the late Vince Lombardi who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” So there is more to greatness than just doing it over and over. You can do it over and over the wrong way and become permanently bad.

So What Does Discipline Have to Do With Personal Growth?

In their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the authors demonstrate that the best managers focus on strengths. Rather than trying to help themselves or their people improve in their areas of weakness, they focus on helping them get great at what they’re already good at. John Maxwell, in his “Law of Consistency,” points out that its critical to know why you want to improve. He says that “Why Power” is far more effective than “Will Power.” It’s about your passion, what you love.

Putting those together brings us back to something I’ve written about previously, your sweet spot. It’s that place where you talents (what your good at), your why (what you care about or love), and your dreams come together. I believe discipline is staying focused on your sweet spot and making the choices every day that will move you forward in realizing those dreams.

I’ll never be good at golf. I lack the talent, the why (sorry, I just don’t care that much about the game), and any dreams about being good at it. What sense would it make for me to discipline myself to improve in that area? Do you have anything in your life like golf? Your’re working on it but it’s not part of your sweet spot. Try re-focusing on your sweet spot and see what happens.