Are You At Capacity … Nope!

Suzi and I were at an event with our kids and she said, “Oh, get some pictures of this.” I pulled out my phone and opened the camera app to start shooting when it said, “Not enough space left to take pictures.” the camera had reached it’s capacity. I could fit no more pictures on it, but this was important so I frantically began looking through the gallery for the random funny face selfies my kids had taken, or the unintentional shot of my foot to delete in order to free up space for the pictures I wanted to take. I lost a few moments in the process but was able to capture some nice pictures in the end.

Capacity is a limit. By definition it means “the maximum amount that something can contain or produce.” Are you operating at capacity? At first, that may sound like a good thing, to operate at capacity. But, consider this quote by Albert Einstein: “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” That suggests what John Maxwell calls the “Law of Expansion: Growth Always Increases Your Capacity.”

How Much is Full?

The truth is, nobody knows. We’ve all heard the myth that we only use 10% of our brain power. That’s been debunked by science, but true or not, we do know that people who think they know everything don’t tend to learn and grow. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced the phenomenon where we learn something new and realize in that moment that there is more we don’t know than we do know. Our capacity has just been stretched.

Living overseas was a huge capacity expansion for our family. Experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of another country on the other side of the planet expanded us to realize there was a whole world we knew nothing about prior to living there. There are hundreds of more subtle examples, When you go to the grocery store to buy bread, for example, you select the bread you want, buy it, take it home and enjoy it.

I’ve worked in bakeries in my past. There is a whole commercial baking world most people know nothing about. There are GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) to be followed, food processing sanitation to be sure equipment is clean, recipe formulas, line speeds, proofing, oven temps, packaging, shipping, and distribution. Each of these elements has experts.

My point is that I didn’t know anything about anything until I learned it. And, each thing I learned actually increased my capacity to learn more. The same thing happens for you. So, how do we get intentional about expanding our capacity?

Expand Your Thinking Capacity

  1. Stop thinking MORE WORK and start thinking WHAT WORKS? If working longer and harder made you successful then more developing countries would be successful. Put your time and energy into what gives the greatest return.
  2. Stop thinking CAN I and start thinking HOW CAN I? When you add the question How? you have moved from doubt to solution finding. Doubt cripples and hinders, Hunting for solutions is energizing.
  3. Stop thinking ONE DOOR and start thinking MANY DOORS. There is always more than one way to achieve a goal. The problem with one door thinking as that you are usually disappointed when you go through that door because it doesn’t deliver all it promised and you wind up going through other doors anyway. Keep options open on the front end.

Expand Your Capacity For Action

  1. Stop doing what you’ve ALWAYS done and start doing what you COULD and SHOULD do. At first you do what you know. But the more that you do what you know you will discover additional worthy things, innovative things, that you know you should do. At this point there’s a pivotal decision. If you know what you should do but continue to do what you’ve always done, you’re in a rut. But if you know what you should do and then do what you know you should do, you’re leading and you’re growing. Get out of your comfort zone. Stay in your strength zone.
  2. Stop doing WHAT is expected and start doing MORE THAN is expected. Jack Welch calls this “getting out of the pile.” During your annual evaluation, do you want to be the person who “Meets Expectations” or the one who “Exceeds Expectations?” I had a boss once who said his favorite three words were, “And then some.” He wanted that extra from himself and others.
  3. Stop doing important things ONCE IN AWHILE and start doing important things EVERY DAY. Important things are those that are
    1. Required – things that not only must be done but that only you can do
    2. Deliver the greatest return – don’t just look for the “low hanging fruit”, look for what will multiply results
    3. Bring the greatest reward – the things that are in your sweet spot, where you passion, your strengths, and your dreams come together

Nike had a slogan, “There is no finish line.” In the same way, unlike my camera, you will never be at capacity. Keep growing.

What If I Were Curious?

“Hey Mom and Dad, What if I walked like this?” That was one of a thousand “what if” questions our oldest daughter, Juliana, asked us while she was growing up. She asked that one in a crowded department store and followed the the question with a demonstration of the kind of walk she was talking about. She took several long, lunging steps where her trailing knee almost touched the floor. It looked really silly. How do you answer a question like that?

Our youngest son, Jordan, was also quite the questioner. One particular trip into San Francisco comes to mind. My parents were visiting from Minnesota that week and we decided to take a trip into the city for the day. The whole family had maxed out the minivan for the hour or so drive in. From his car seat in the back, Jordan almost immediately started lobbing questions to all the adults. “Mom, what …?” “Mom, who …?” “Dad, when …” “Grandpa, why …?” The vast majority of the questions went to “Mom.” It became funny at one point and we started keeping score of who was asked more questions. I don’t remember what the score was, but Suzi definitely won!

The Law of Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it made the millionaire. I don’t know if that’s an actual quote from someone else and I don’t know if being a millionaire is your goal, but the fact is that growth is stimulated by curiosity.

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I’m only passionately curious.”

Walt Disney said, “Curiosity keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

How does that work? Why did that happen? What if I did this instead? How many other ways could I try to get to that result? Curiosity is the key to ingenuity and creativity. Nothing new was ever attempted or accomplished without curiosity. In the most watched TED talk of all time, Sir Ken Robinson argues that schools kill creativity. I’m not trying to indict our educational system, but I do think we lose when we focus more on finding the right answers than we do on asking the right questions.

How to Cultivate Curiosity

Do you want to know how to be more curious? Are you wondering how to regain that childhood wonder that sparks so many questions? There’s the first key.

The first step in cultivating curiosity is to adopt a beginners mindset. A beginner’s mindset is not at age thing, it’s an attitude thing. Jordan on the way to San Francisco was displaying a beginner’s mindset. A beginner’s mindset cares more about learning than about reputation. A beginner’s mindset is not influenced by set rules or by conventional wisdom. A beginner’s mindset starts with a question, not an answer.

The second step in cultivating curiosity is very practical. It’s to learn something new every day. When was the last time you learned something for the first time? How about today?

The third step is to make failure your friend. Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We often learn more from our failures than from our successes.

The fourth step is to stop looking for THE right answer. There are two fallacies to the “one right answer” people. Fallacy number one, there is always more than one solution to a problem. To buy into the only one right answer is to stop the search for more and better ones. Fallacy number two, the “best” answer can always become better. Keep your options open.

Here’s another way to think about it. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Most people stop there. Curious people, people who grow, wonder, “If it ain’t broke … how could it be better?” or, “If it ain’t broke … what’s likely to break it in the future?”

What are you curious about?

We Have to Stretch to Grow

The thing about rubber bands is that they’re pretty much useless until they’ve been stretched. Every use I can think of for a rubber band requires that you stretch it first. This is why John Maxwell calls one of his laws of personal growth “The Law of the Rubber Band.” It says that “growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.” You need to keep stretching. Another way of saying that came from Abraham Maslow who said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy the rest of your life.”

Suzi and I were having lunch with some friends several years ago. The conversation turned to personal growth and one of our friends said, “If I have to experience pain in order to grow, then I’m happy where I am.” I’ll never forget that comment. It sounded like that person was aiming for mediocrity. Mediocrity is not a worthy goal. It’s like the cartoon I saw on a bulletin board. A football team was running off the field chanting “We’re number six!” One of the fans said to another in the stands, “I think they’re too easily satisfied!” It’s easy to be average.

Life Begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch

Your comfort zone is a dangerous place. It prevents you from improving, it stops you from achieving all the things you are capable of achieving and it makes you miserable. That’s a line from an article entitled, “Why Your Comfort Zone is the Most Dangerous Place on Earth.”

Your comfort zone is where you feel familiar and in control. It’s where you are not intimidated by challenges and don’t feel like something is at risk. But that’s exactly the problem. Risk and intimidating challenges are the stretching of the rubber band. Doug Larson said, “Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.” You have to get out of the boat if you’re going to walk on water.

Stretch Goals

Most of us set goals. Many organizations require you to set goals as part of your development plan and annual evaluation. We are most often asked to set “SMART” goals. Those are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Realistic), Time bound. I love what Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ said in a white paper called, “Are SMART Goals Dumb?” He proposes H.A.R.D. goals. In his model the “D” stands for Difficult. It means, “I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my goal.” Now we’re talking about stretching. Rabbi Nehman asks, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

“Stretch Goals” are ambitious goals that challenge current assumptions and processes, and inspire teams (people) to re-imagine what they previously thought possible. You can stretch in two different directions. If you stretch vertically, for example, you are reaching for new heights in something you’ve already achieved. It may be a sales goal no one believes possible or putting a person on Mars.

You can also stretch horizontally. That means expanding your horizons to attempt something you’ve never done before. You may be dreaming of starting a business or launching a product line that seems outside your normal arena. Whether you stretch up or you stretch out, stretching is the key to growth.

Someone once said, “You are exactly where you should be in life given everything you have done to get here.” That may cause some of us to say, “ouch!” It’s true, though, and the question is, what will we do on purpose to become who we could be?

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 Make a Recipe for Growth

I don’t have a certificate from the American Institute of Baking qualifying me as a Master Baker, but I can turn out a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. How is that, you ask? The secret is I follow the “Toll House” recipe on the back of my bag of chocolate chips. I’ve done it enough times I even have the recipe memorized. I can gather the ingredients and tools and have the first batch out of the oven in 15 – 20 minutes. The recipe makes it possible for me to consistently bake good tasting chocolate chip cookies.

Best selling author and small business guru, Michael Gerber (The E-myth) says, “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without a system, even extraordinary people find it difficult to achieve even ordinary results.” A recipe is a system. Systems consist of components (ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and tools like bowls, a mixer, cookie sheets) and processes (like measuring out the ingredients, combining and mixing, and placing in the oven at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time). I’m an ordinary guy but my cookies are consistently pretty extraordinary.

A Recipe for Personal Growth

Entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not Much.” Yikes! That’s true. In someone else’s life plan you and I will be, at best, a rung on their ladder or a medal on their chest. Do you want to be someone’s rung or medal? Me either. Here’s one more quote from Jim Rohn:

If you want to have more, you have to become more.
For things to improve, you have to improve.
For things to get better, you have to get better.
For things to change, you have to change.
When you change, everything changes for you.

We have to grow into who we want to be. So we’ve got to have a system for personal growth, a recipe if you will. As Rohn says, we have to design our own life plan.

What Would You Like to Bake?

Suzi’s (my wife) favorite cake is Angel Food (she’s an angel after all!). I love chocolate cake. We’ve already talked about my cookies. Each of those is a baked product but it requires a very different recipe to achieve each one. Before you begin to bake, you have to decide what you want to eat. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The same is true for personal growth. Where do you want to grow? What skill or trait or vision of the future do you want to work on? That’s the beginning point of your personal growth recipe. The desired outcome determines the ingredients and processes required to get there.

Guidelines for Creating a Recipe

You’ve decided you want to grow in a certain area. Now you need a plan, the recipe. Here are some guidelines for creating your recipe.

  1. Measurement – how will you measure your progress? Make a checklist of the necessary elements in your growth plan and track your progress.
  2. Priorities – think proportions. How much time, energy, and money are you willing to invest in your goal? Remember, don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.
  3. Application – the heat of the oven transforms the recipe’s combined ingredients into a cake or cookies. In the same way, the heat of putting your skill, trait, or vision of the future into practice creates the necessary transformation in you. As soon as you learn something important, think, “Where can I use this?” “When can I use this?” “Who else needs to know this?” and take action on the answer to each of those questions.

Your recipe for growth may include classes, books, interviews, skills training, or other ingredients. It will involve exposing yourself to new things, educating yourself, and experiencing the opportunities your new skill, trait, or realized vision open for you. How you combine all these things is your recipe for personal growth. What do you want to bake?

How to Cultivate Growth

We currently live in California where there are 16 separate climate zones. We learned that the hard way one summer day after we first moved here. It was over 100 degrees in the Central Valley where we live, so we decided to go to the ocean. We chose to drive into San Francisco to enjoy the Wharf. We loaded our family of 7 into the mini-van all dressed in T-shirts and shorts and headed to the city. It was when we got out of the van at the Wharf that we discovered the short drive (less than an hour) had take us way out of our climate zone. It was in the lower 60’s in the city and we were too cold to enjoy the day.

Gardening and landscaping is interesting in California for the same reason. Nurseries and Garden Centers have to stock according to the climate zone(s) represented by their customer base. “Will the plants I want grow well in my climate zone?” The answer to that question can be different only a few miles down the road.

What Growth Climate Are You Creating?

People are like plants. We thrive and grow in certain climates better than other climates. One of the first components of a growth climate is the basic beliefs or assumptions you have about people. What you believe about them will determine how you behave toward them.

Some people have the following or similar basic assumptions about people:

  1. They are uncommitted.
  2. They are basically lazy.
  3. They are irresponsible.
  4. They are merely resources you use to accomplish my goals.

What kind of climate do you think comes from those basic beliefs? I believe it would be a cold, dark climate filled with fear of failure and a punishment-based motivational model. Have you ever experienced a climate like that?

The Golem effect is in full force here. The Golem effect says that negative expectations by supervisors produce poorer performance from employees that tend to reinforce the negative beliefs of the supervisors which, in turn, generates more negative expectations. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Opposite of the Golem effect is the Pygmalian effect. It says that our beliefs about others influence our actions toward them, which impact their beliefs about themselves, which cause their actions toward others, which reinforce our beliefs about them. It is a positive cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are more apt to create a climate for growth when we believe:

  1. People will do what makes sense to them.
  2. People want to make a difference.
  3. People don’t want to fail.
  4. People want to grow personally.
  5. People need and respond to encouragement and appreciation.

What a different climate those beliefs would create. But, how do you change your beliefs? Are they permanently ingrained or can they change? I believe they can change. Often the only thing required to change them is to spend a little time getting to know your people. When you listen to them, 9 times out of 10 you will be amazed especially if you’re open to being amazed.

Sunshine and Rain

Once we have the foundational beliefs right, what can we add to the environment to promote personal growth for ourselves and our people?

Exposure – give yourself and your people opportunities to try new things. Let them attend meetings they normally don’t have access to. I’ve had people apply for promotions they didn’t expect to get just for the exposure to the process. One value of exposure is that it often generates questions which will lead to the next step.

Education – encourage yourself and your people to take classes. They could be toward certifications or just to answer those questions that came from Exposure. But, have a purpose for classes and don’t assume taking a class is the sum total of development. It’s always only a step.

Experience – the difference between Exposure and Experience is that instead of attending the meeting, you have the person lead the meeting. You let the person be lead for a day. You walk, or let your people walk in someone else’s shoes. These are amazing growth opportunities.

You have to be willing to let people fail safely for any of this to work. Failure is part of growth. In fact, we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure may feel like “dung” but dung makes a great fertilizer.

A Word About Weeds and Suckers

Part of cultivation for plant growth is pulling weeds and cutting away unhealthy growth. That’s also necessary in personal growth. Correcting bad habits and redirecting people are part of the growth process. Sometimes you may even have to remove a toxic person from the team in order to promote a growth climate. That’s extreme and a last resort, but is sometimes necessary.

Just like California with it’s 16 climate zones, your climate doesn’t have to be the same as the one down the road to grow beautiful plants. But it has to be conducive to growing the plants you want.

See Value IN Yourself to Add Value TO Yourself

I love this picture! That kitten doesn’t seem to have a problem with his self-image, does he? It’s a great illustration of the concept of self image. What do we see when we look in the mirror? What image of ourselves do we see looking back at us? As I get older, I’m noticing that I recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror less and less. I sometimes wonder, “Who’s that old guy looking back at me?” If you’re over, say 40 or so, you get what I’m talking about. But that’s not what this post is about. We’re talking about personal growth and the reality is that you need to see value in yourself before you’ll be willing to add value to yourself.

Unless your a narcissist or some kind of crazy, you’re susceptible to “impostor syndrome,” especially if you’re a high achiever or have big dreams. Impostor syndrome is that form of self-doubt that worries about being “whatever-enough” for the job or the dream. Every Lion looks in the mirror and sees a kitten from time to time. But, if that’s your constant state, that will prevent your personal growth.

What’s Your Value?

I’m not talking about your financial net worth. I’m asking, “What value do you see in yourself?” That’s important because you will not give yourself the opportunity to grow if you think you are not worthy of it because if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t bet on yourself.

Your sense of personal value becomes a self-fulling prophecy in the sense that others will begin to see you the way you see yourself. Leadership coach John Maxwell said, “If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise the price.” If you don’t allow yourself to expand and grow, if you don’t invest in yourself, remaining where you are for a long period of time, others will take note and place the same value on you as you’ve placed on yourself.

Value is defined as, “the regard (high opinion, liking and respect, esteem) that something/someone is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something/someone.” With that definition in mind, what “regard, importance, worth, or usefulness” do you see in yourself? Let me tell you something. Unless you’re that narcissist I mentioned earlier, you’re worth way more than you think.

How to Reset Your Value

I’m a person of faith so the first place I look to determine anyone’s value is to the Bible. According to the first book of the Bible (Genesis), we are all created in God’s image. The rest of the Bible talks about how much God loves us and the extent he’s gone to redeem us. God places extreme value on each of us. Who am I to argue with God?! You have great value.

Even if you’re not a person of faith, you can change the image you see when you look in the mirror. Here are a couple ways to do that.

  1. Watch your Self-Talk – We tend to listen to and believe ourselves more than anyone else. What we say to ourselves, we believe. How we believe determines what we do, and what we do we tend to become. No one ever set a world record who said, “I can’t do this.”
  2. Add Value to Others – When we give to someone else by helping them grow and develop it creates space in us for growth
  3. Do the Right Thing even if it’s the Hard Thing – This discipline will go a long way in resetting your sense of character.
  4. Practice a One Word strategy – Pick a character quality or skill you’d like to develop and make it your one word for the month. Put it in a prominent place where you’ll see it daily and spend time each day focusing on that word and how it will be seen in your life.
  5. Remember the Rest of Your Story is Unwritten – Remember, the story of your life is an epic novel. The next chapter, let alone the ending, is not yet written. Become the author of your own story.

You are a person of value. It’s time to start betting on yourself.

Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

When you plan a trip you have to know at least two things. You need to know where you’re starting from and where you’re going. That’s true if you’re going to the grocery store or going across the country. It’s also true when we talk about personal growth. It’s true but the starting and ending points of personal growth are often far less obvious than are the two end points of a physical journey. That’s why we say you have to “know yourself to grow yourself.”

Knowing yourself is the starting point of your personal growth journey and it involves understanding what you want. There are three kinds of people when it comes to knowing what you want and doing it. First, there are those who don’t know. They are confused. Then, there are those who know but don’t do anything. They’re frustrated. Finally, there are those who know and make the journey. They are fulfilled. Which are you?

The really great thing is there is fulfillment in the personal growth journey itself, not just in arriving at the destination. If you think about it, when it comes to personal growth, when does one ever arrive?

To Know Yourself, Know Your Why?

A starting point for your personal growth journey is to understand your purpose. Knowing what to do becomes more clear when you know your “why.” How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about the normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as of having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery, when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend.

So, Now What?

Comedian, Michael Jr. says, “To inspire people to walk in purpose is my Why. I can do comedy, write books, or be in a movie. They are ‘whats’ that are made more clear and impactful by my why.”

The next step in personal growth is to find some of your best “Whats.” Ask yourself,

“What are my strengths?”
“What are my weaknesses?”
“What are my interests?”
“What are my opportunities?”

In short, what do you like to do and/or want to do?

Now, ask some of your friends and family the same questions about you. They can validate or clarify especially the answers to the strengths and weaknesses questions. You may also find value in taking an assessment like the DISC analysis. I can help with that. I’m a certified DISC trainer. Feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com. I’ll set you up with a web-based assessment that will give you a 30 page report outlining many helpful insights into your DISC personality profile. There is a small fee for this service, but it is well worth it.

Now it’s time to put it all together.

What’s Your Sweet Spot?

The next step in your personal growth journey is to identify what you’re great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. You may like to do lots of things but there are a couple or one that you excel at. These are the things people tell you you’re good at but you don’t recognize it because it “comes naturally.”

Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about) and your talent and skills intersect. When you’ve identified your sweet spot you have the “Know Yourself” part of “Know Yourself to Grow Yourself.” You’ve put a pin in the “Where am I now” part of your personal growth map. Now you can plan your growth to develop your sweet spot.

Growth Doesn’t Just Happen

Over the last three months I’ve been writing about Communication. In April the topic was “The Power of Connection” in four parts. May was four posts on Organizational Communication. Finally, last week I concluded a five part series on Listening. During the quarter that started this month, I want to shift themes from Communication to Personal Growth. It’s been said that “mastery” (the desire to get better at stuff) is one of a handful of intrinsic motivators. In other words, we are driven to grow and improve because of internal rewards (satisfaction) over external ones like prizes or recognition.

Leadership teacher, coach, and author John C. Maxwell,  among his many books, has written two that have been helpful to me on this topic. First is , The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, and the other is called Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. I highly recommend them both and if you were to read them you would recognize their influence in my writing during this quarter.

The First Law

The first of John’s invaluable laws of growth is the law of “Intentionality.” It’s also what the entire second book is about, living on purpose. The Law of Intentionality says, “Growth Doesn’t Just Happen.” You have to plan for it and work on it … on purpose.

My youngest two graduated from High School a year ago (wow! already). Our lives have changed in the evenings since that happened. While they were in school the evenings were filled with homework and preparation. That’s because the school had a curriculum and each course in that curriculum had a syllabus and each day had a lesson plan which included learning objectives. The school district was intentional about their learning and development (growth).

Once we graduate and the structured learning environment of school is gone, most of us are set adrift when it comes to personal growth. We find jobs or start businesses that may or may not have anything to do with our formal education. Then life is all about the daily tasks related to that job or business. But, as many experts will tell you, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” If that’s true, then in the scenario I just described, we’re dying.

Be Your own Board of Education

Because we no longer have others structuring our learning and growth for us, we need to develop our own personal growth plan.

Start with work. If you love your job (if you don’t, that’s another conversation) or aspire to a certain position, there are most likely job related certifications you can pursue. Research those and decide which ones you want and how to get them. There may even be organizations you can join that provide curriculum for your job development. In many cases an employer will pay for job related education and memberships. LinkedIn Premium has training available on a wide variety of topics as well.

How about Hobbies and personal interests? Set a goal. What do you want to be able to do by the end of the year? Find Youtube videos or online communities or local clubs that deal with that and start learning. Or go old school, like me, and buy books. Invest some time and money in yourself.

Finally, set a time and place to “study.” I get up at 5:15 every morning. After feeding the cat and letting the dog out, I pour a cup of coffee and sit down on the couch in the living room. I read for half an hour. I read a selection from two books. First, I read a chapter from the Bible progressing through a book. Then I read from whichever book is current on my list. It could be on a variety of subjects. After that, I write for half an hour. That’s when I work on these posts. I also have a couple of e-books on my phone that I read whenever I’m in line or waiting for my wife in a store.

There are other things I do and other things you could do. The main thing, though, is to start. Growth doesn’t just happen.

Using the Speed Gap Trap to Your Advantage

Last week I listed one of 7 barriers to good listening as “The Speed Gap Trap.” I called it that because of the gap between the speed of speech and the speed of thought. I called it a trap because it’s in that gap that most good listening gets stuck. Most often people don’t listen well because their minds wander while the other person is talking or because they use the gap to plan their reply.

Bonus Brain Time

There is a completely opposite way to look at the speed gap. It can be listening’s worsts enemy, or it can be listening’s greatest ally. What makes the difference? Intentionality. You can learn to use the gap to your listening advantage.

Before we go any further, I want to try an experiment with you. Think about a red balloon . . . What came to mind? Was it a big hot air balloon or a smaller helium filled birthday party balloon? Now, think about a green chair . . . Did you have a specific chair that came to mind or did you imagine one? It doesn’t matter. The point of the experiment is to show that you can choose what you think about. If you followed the instructions, you directed your mind to a red balloon and a green chair, and you did it in no time at all. You’re pretty amazing!

What you are experiencing now is something called meta-cognition. That’s a fancy word for thinking about your thinking. You have the ability to examine your thought processes while they’re occurring. Think about that. If you apply that ability while you are listening, you can turn “The Speed Gap Trap” into what I call “Bonus Brain Time.” Use the speed gap to think about your listening and direct your thinking to focus on the speaker.

Putting Bonus Brain Time to Work

Try an exercise. During your next conversation, practice being aware of how you are listening. First, pay attention to your own posture and attention. Are you giving eye contact? Are you listening to what is being said or are you planning what you will say next? One signal that you are planning what to say next instead of listening is the urge to interrupt. If you feel that, you are more than likely not listening as well as you could.

Next, pay attention to the person talking. What words are they using? What are their body language and facial expressions saying to you? I call this listening with your ears and listening with your eyes. How do the things they are saying come together to form a picture (listening with your brain)? How do you feel about what you’re hearing (listening with your gut)? Does it strike you as authentic? Is there any prejudice on your part that would lead you to believe one way or another?

After the conversation is over, make some notes. How did you do? What did you learn about the person who was talking? Even more, what did you learn about your listening? Yourself as a listener? Practice that same process over and over. It will be very useful as you develop your listening skills.