Archive for Communication

At a Loss for Words…in the Worst Sort of Way!

Microphone_AudienceThere I was, on the “big stage” at the Toastmasters District 3 Tall Tales contest. I began my speech by saying:

“Ladies and gentlemen, have you ever…”

Almost immediately, the little voice in my head kicked in and said, “That’s not what you’re supposed to say!” and my mind instantly went blank.

I could not remember the rest of my speech!

Three months prior, I decided to take a stab at competing in speech contests. This was my first experience being a contestant, because for several years, I either was not interested in competing or was ineligible because I was serving in Toastmasters leadership.

I made my way through each level of the contest process without missing a beat – from the club level, through the area and division levels, then finally the district (state) level. I managed to put together a great story (loosely based on a time in my past) and was able to present it well, adding elements to it at each level.

Everything seemed to be working well…until that moment on the big stage.

Thankfully, my “memory loss” happened during the microphone check, and not the actual speech. I still had about 2 hours before the contest began. The bad thing was…my speech seemed to be completely erased from my memory.

I was at a loss for words, in the worst sort of way!

In an instant, my mind started racing. That “little voice” chimed in…”What are you going to do?!?” I could feel the sense of panic start to set in. Thankfully, I remained mindful enough to realize what was going on internally, and was able to calm myself down rather quickly. I remembered a couple of specific items to check before removing the lapel microphone I was to use. Once I finished the test, I began the process of resurrecting and restoring the speech back into my memory, as well as giving myself a “pep talk.”

The wise words of a couple of my mentors came in very handy…”If you know the beginning and the ending of your speech, you will be able to fill the gap in between.”

They were right. My ending was easy to remember, because that was when I was using my prop. All I really needed to do was get my opening line right. I knew that if I could do that, everything else would fall into place. Hey, I lived the story I was telling…sort of. During the opening ceremony and part of the dinner I concentrated on my opening line. Occasionally, I would have a quick conversation with someone, then test myself to see if I could remember the line. I also kept telling myself, “You know this speech. You have given it dozens of times. Once you get past that first line, it will be smooth sailing!”

The next thing I knew, the contest was on, and it was my turn to speak. I was the fourth contestant out of a total of eight – the middle of the pack. My name and the title of the speech was called, and I shook the announcer’s hand as I made my way to the stage. This was the moment of truth. Will the right words come out of my mouth?

“Ladies and gentlemen, you might not believe this looking at me today, but at one time…I had hair!”

YES! My opening line was perfect! And just as predicted by my mentors, everything else fell into place. At the end of the night, I walked away with the third place trophy – pretty good for my first speech contest.

I still cannot explain why my brain seemed to lock up before that speech. It just “happened.” I can tell you that I learned some very valuable lessons that will stick with me for a long time. If you ever encounter a “loss for words” before your next presentation, remember:

  • First, and most important – panicking over the situation does you no good whatsoever. If I had fed into the panic that I initially felt, I would not have been able to think clearly enough to solve my dilemma, and my performance would have suffered greatly.

 

  • Keep talking to yourself in a positive manner. Just like panicking in a situation, negative self-talk does you no good, and can actually make things worse. Positive self-talk can help you keep your energy up, as well as help you focus on solutions, rather than blaming or degrading. It will make a big difference in the energy that you give out when you’re on stage. Your audience will sense your negative mood, no matter how you try to hide it!

 

  • Assuming that you know, and have practiced your material – if you know your opening line, and how you are going to end your speech…you can fill the gap in between. It may not be exactly word-for-word as you planned or practiced, but remember that your audience won’t know that. One of the things that I have learned that helps immensely is practicing impromptu speaking skills. Working on these skills helps to train your brain to think quickly and give you the ability to “fill in the gaps” in your presentation, if needed.

 

  • A bonus tip – I have found that visualizing portions of my speech helped make it easier to recall and remember. I created “snapshots” in my mind that would help jog my memory while I gave my speech. I would go from “snapshot to snapshot” as I progressed through the speech. If you are not a visual person, maybe you could think of certain keywords or feelings that will trigger your memory. Find out which method works for you, and give it a try!

 

These tips may seem basic to some people. Some may even say they are common knowledge. However, I hope this serves as a good reminder. It’s easy to forget about this and panic in the “heat of the moment” just as I almost did that night. If you experience a challenge such as this, keep these suggestions in mind, and know that you will succeed!

Have you ever had an experience like this?

From your experience, what suggestions would you add to this list?

Get BIGGER by Surrounding Yourself with BIG People

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment (and the people in it*) that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things (and people*) helping you toward success, or are they holding you back?”

-W. Clement Stone (* – my additions)

When I was in my early teens, I started lifting weights. It was one of the few exercises I could do that wouldn’t trigger an asthma attack (I had exercise-induced asthma when I was younger). The DP weight set and bench came with manuals that included exercise guides that I used to teach myself the proper ways to lift weights. Over the years, I made marginal gains…nothing overly impressive.

Things changed several years ago when I befriended a guy named Jeff. Jeff was a big guy, built like a brick wall, because he was a serious and powerful weightlifter. Jeff was already at the level that I wanted to achieve. When the YMCA opened up in our county, we became members and started working out together.

Things changed when the environment, and the people in it, got bigger.

My workouts became more challenging because “bigger” people were now in my environment. Jeff and his friends were stronger, and had the capacity to move more weight. Because of that, I worked harder to keep up with them. I started making impressive gains as a result. In less than a year, my bench press went from 225 pounds to 300!

Having BIG people in my environment helped make me a bigger person!

As the quote above says, we are all products of our environment…and the people that are in it. If you are not satisfied with some aspect of your life, look around you:

  • Who are the people you choose to surround yourself with?

  • Are they BIG people who challenge you and help you improve? Or do they hold you back?

    • If you hang around leaders, you will become a leader.
    • If you hang around great communicators, you will become a great communicator.
    • If you hang around successful businesspeople, you will become successful in business.
    • If you hang around turkeys, well…gobble, gobble!
  • What can you do to make changes for the better?

Shortly after making that 300 pound bench press, I moved from North Carolina to Phoenix, Arizona. Because of the change in my environment and the people in it (or lack of people, in this case), my performance dropped. I eventually lost the ability to move the weight that I had before, because I no longer had that challenge and support. I knew that I had to make some changes. I had to add BIG people to my environment.

How to find BIG people to add to your environment

  • Join a supportive group or organization – You can go online and find a group such as Toastmasters or a Rotary club that is located near you. Meetup.com is also a great resource to find groups that can help you achieve success.
  • Find a mentor – Find someone who has already been where you are going and see if they are willing to mentor you along your journey to success. This can be someone from your work, school, church, a family friend, or someone from one of the organizations mentioned above. A mentor can provide that challenge and motivation because they are already operating on a higher level.

 Remember that this is a two-way street. Figure out what you can offer them in return for their mentorship.

  • Use information (books and technology) to help guide you – In addition to the above resources, or in case you live in a secluded area with little access to groups, you can find a lot of support in books and on the internet. You can be mentored by former world leaders, history makers, and thought leaders through their writings, articles, and videos.

 (In my opinion, for best results, I suggest a combination of all 3 avenues)

Through the use of technology, I was able to access a few mentors to help me improve my strength building and fitness skills (ironically, one of them is named Jeff). Thanks to the information and motivation they have provided, I have been able to work my way toward the level of strength that I achieved a few years ago!

Are there certain areas in your life that you want to improve?

Are you looking to enhance certain skills?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” I challenge you to take the steps above, and find BIG people to add to your environment. It will make a HUGE difference in your performance!Get BIGGER by Surrounding Yourself with BIG People

Respect Thine Audience – No Matter the Size!

Whether they number 5, 50, or 5000 – Give Your Audience the Show (and Respect) They Deserve!Respect Thine Audience!

I recently read a couple of articles about a Google executive who walked out of a conference 30 minutes before he was scheduled to speak.

The reason – there were only about fifty people in attendance to hear his speech. His excuse for walking out…he doesn’t speak to small groups.

If you would like to read a couple of full versions of the story, click on these links:

http://readwrite.com/2014/05/06/google-scott-jenson-internet-of-things#awesm=~oFiesmstSYnSmt

http://nypost.com/2014/05/09/google-execs-tantrum-becomes-twitter-verse-plaything/

As I read these articles, I could feel a sense of outrage welling up. In my opinion, what this speaker did was show a total lack of respect or concern for his audience and the conference organizers. The behavior that this individual displayed (storming out of the conference hall) was extremely unprofessional and egotistical.

No matter how many people are in your audience, remember that they are taking valuable time out of their lives to hear you speak. I view speaking engagements as transactions. As a speaker, you are there to give them the “gift” of your information or entertainment in exchange for the time they are giving you. To deny your part of the transaction, especially for what I would consider petty reasons, shows a lack of respect and integrity.

No matter the size of the audience…whether it is five thousand, five hundred, or five…if we agree to show up and speak (sign contracts, shake hands, or whatever is used for agreement), we should stick to our word and deliver our message. If there are any discrepancies, they should be covered in your contract, or you should take them up with the host.

Don’t punish the audience!

There is something else to consider before doing something like walking out on your audience…the power and speed of social media. Before you set one foot outside the conference hall, news of your abandonment can already be in the public eye. A quick tweet or Facebook post could be making its way out into the world. Can you afford the bad publicity? I would imagine the answer is “NO!” Imagine how much work it would take to turn that negativity around. Some people never make a comeback from that kind of negative press!

If you are ever faced with a smaller than expected audience:

  • Remember that the people that are attending have fulfilled their part of the transaction by showing up to hear you speak. Have the integrity to fulfill your part!
  • You can ask the audience to move in a little closer to your speaking area to create a more intimate setting. If they seem hesitant to move, offer them a “reward” for moving closer (i.e. small token, product, or even chocolate – which works for me!)
  • If you are able, make your presentation a little more “conversational” with your audience – maybe avoid using your PowerPoint, or allow opportunities for questions or conversation with audience members. This can make the experience a little more memorable to them, because of the added value.
  • Last, reframe the situation. This, and every opportunity you have to speak is another chance to gain “face time” with the public, as well as a chance to practice and improve your material in front of a live audience.

There is always a chance that sometime in your speaking adventures, you will encounter a crowd that is smaller than expected. Remember…honor and respect your audience by holding up your end of the bargain. Look at it as an opportunity to gain experience that will help you improve and become an even better presenter in the future!

 

For more information on how to improve your presentations, and for some interesting stories and insights on public speaking, get a copy of Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. (As a matter of fact, a couple of the suggestions were inspired by his book!) Just click on the picture below to order the book now!

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Lessons from “The Helicopter Man”

Source: cronkitenewsonline.comDealing with Toxic Leaders…and How to Avoid Being One Yourself!

Several years ago, I was a mechanic in a privately owned shop that specialized in German cars. It was an interesting and challenging job. I got to work on a lot of nice cars…and some that were not so nice.

There was one “challenge” on that job that I did not really care for…dealing with the shop owner’s (our boss) angry episodes. Two or three times a week, he would storm through the shop with an angry look on his red, flushed face, his arms flailing in the air, and muttering under his breath with every step. The first time I witnessed this behavior, I was a bit shocked and concerned. After dealing with the behavior for a little while, my coworkers and I would just look at each other and roll our eyes as if to say, “What is it now?”

The boss’s anger was rarely directed at us. Often, he had these tantrums for different reasons:

  •  dealing with challenging customers
  •  his wife calling at inconvenient times (according to him, no time was convenient)
  •  whenever the shop owner next door would ask for his assistance

He knew exactly what he was doing, and often bragged about how great his health was because he never held his anger in. Often he would say, “The doctor says my blood pressure is great, and I’m as healthy as a horse. It’s all because I don’t bottle anything up!” He would then go into the story about how he used to storm through the car dealership where he worked in the same manner. He said that he did it so much; coworkers started calling him “The Helicopter Man” for the way he would flail his arms around.

This behavior may have been cathartic for the boss, but it was stressful for us. It really didn’t matter who the boss’s anger was directed toward, or how “healthy” his behavior was supposedly keeping him, we were the ones who had to deal with it!

Emotions are Contagious

Don’t believe me? Take a minute to think about the last time that you were happy, and having a great day; when someone in your life (family member, significant other, coworker, or boss) walked in looking worried, angry, or sad. Did your mood change? I’m willing to bet that it did…at least for a moment. We have the capability and tendency to mirror the emotions of those around us, thanks to the sympathetic and mirror networks at work in our brains.

Leaders Stay Aware and In Charge of Their Mood

Good leaders understand how contagious their emotions can be, and strive to keep their emotions in check. They know that misdirected or unrestrained anger has the potential to cause problems in their organizations. They find constructive ways to manage, direct, and deal with “hot button” issues:

  •  They take time to stop and analyze the mood they are in as the day progresses, and as situations rise.
  •      They set up schedules that allow them to make effective use of their time, and avoid distractions that may trigger a bad mood.
  •  They set boundaries, and say “no” to opportunities that are not in their best interest. If something needs attention and they do not have the time to take care of it themselves, they delegate it.
  •  If someone in the organization makes a mistake, it is discussed behind closed doors, and not in public. (Always remember: Praise in public – Correct in private)
  •     They use humor and laughter as a tool to keep everyone around them in a positive mood. Positive moods = increased and better quality production.

Dealing with Toxic Leaders

I am willing to bet that just about everyone out there has experienced (or is currently experiencing) dealing with an angry boss or a toxic leader. Unfortunately, they are out there among us…like snakes in the grass, poised and ready to strike!

What can you do when faced with a toxic leader?

  •  Remember to avoid taking it personally. The toxicity is their problem, not yours.
  •  Set boundaries and limit the time you spend with the toxic person. Take control of your environment.
  •  Remember that you are in charge of your emotions! The negativity can stop with you, and avoid becoming contagious to others.

Unfortunately, toxic leaders are everywhere. They pop up when we least expect it. Thanks to the lessons learned from my experience with the “Helicopter Man” and other toxic leaders like him, I not only learned how to avoid being a “Helicopter Man” myself, I have also learned how to deal with that type of behavior.

I hope that these tips will help you deal with toxic leaders that you may encounter, and will also help you keep from becoming a toxic leader yourself.

Have you ever had to deal with a toxic leader? If so, what tips did you use that could be added to the list?

Increase your understanding of use of Emotional Intelligence with these resources. Click on the pictures for more information:

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KINDLE EDITION!

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A Simple and Powerful Message to Save Lives

How 4.6 Seconds and the Length of a Football Field Can Change Lives…ForeverStop Texts Stop Wrecks

I checked my email this morning and came across this article from sales strategist Jill Konrath. The email heading read This is the most important blog post I have ever written, so I decided to open it and take a look.

When I opened the email, I was confused a little by the title:

Avoid This Killer Sales Strategy at All Costs

I’m not the type of person who clamors to learn about the newest sales strategy, or strategies to avoid for that matter. What mainly interests me about sales is the communication and behavior factors that are involved. I began reading the article, with a little skepticism.

I would have to say that even though Konrath directed this blog post towards the “sales crowd,” the message is something we all need to hear. A while back, I wrote articles about multitasking (how I believe it is a myth), and how our society has become disconnected and distracted by our electronic gadgets. Ms. Konrath’s article really tells the story of how dramatically life can change because someone chose to be distracted for a few seconds. Yes, I used the word chose because people make the choice to pick up the phone and call or text while driving. It is a very dangerous habit that can have serious consequences, as you will read.

Below is the link to Ms. Konrath’s article. Please read and share it with everyone you know.

Avoid This Killer Sales Strategy at All Costs

 

Speaking Notes – Public Speaking “Felony” or Useful Tool?

Tips on using notes when speaking in public

Notes_Desk

At Toastmaster meetings, I often see new speakers using notes when they give their speeches.

Later in the meeting, when the speech is being evaluated, one of the suggestions that I constantly hear from the evaluator is:

“I would like to see you reach a point where you don’t use notes when giving a speech in the future.”

I have often wondered…why are we so quick to discourage the use of speaking notes?

I understand the suggestion for short speeches. In most cases, with proper practice and preparation, notes should really not be needed for shorter speeches. However, I believe we should think of using notes as more of a tool than a crutch, especially if they are used discreetly and effectively.

Instead of discouraging the use of speaking notes, why not teach proper and discreet methods of using them?

Notes have their place in public speaking. When used correctly, they can help keep us in line and on point as we are delivering our message to others. To discourage someone from using notes instead of giving them tips on using them effectively is like giving someone a hiking map with the start and ending point, but nothing in between to show them the important landmarks, ravines, and hills they will encounter along their journey.

Your audience wants you to succeed!

I firmly believe the statement above. The last thing that I want to see as an audience member is a speaker getting stuck in the middle of their presentation. If it happens, I find myself subconsciously trying to throw a little “energy” to them to help them get unstuck. When they get back on track, I feel a sense of relief. After the speech, I usually talk with others and find out that they also felt relief when the speaker was able to get unstuck and keep going.

I honestly believe that if you are doing your job as a speaker and keeping the audience entertained and engaged, it really does not matter to them if you are using notes…as long as those notes are not causing a distraction.

How to use notes in your speech without having them become a distraction

If you watch speakers on video or in person, you may notice several of them use some form of notes in their presentations. Some do a better job than others. They have found a way to make the discreet use of notes work for them. Some use small tables on the stage to set their notes and reference materials on. Others use a lectern on one side of the stage as “home base,” and will slowly saunter over to it when they need to refer to their notes.

For shorter speeches, some use a note card with an outline or even a Post-it note to help keep their speech organized.

I have taken some of the approaches other speakers have taken to using notes, added some of my ideas, and came up with a system that I am currently using now.

Here are some of the things I do when I prepare speaking notes, and use those notes in my presentations:

  • Create an outline for the speech. The outline creates a map from start to finish, with all the points to cover during the speech. You can start with the speech written out word-for-word then break it down into smaller “bite sized” parts to create the outline.
  • Be comfortable with the subject. This, combined with strong extemporaneous speaking skills will help fill in the blanks and overcome any obstacles in the speech. Refer to the outline during the speech to give you direction.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice! Not to memorize the speech and sound robotic, but to get comfortable and confident with your speech. This will also uncover any changes that need to be made in the speech. You will be able to face anything that is thrown at you with the comfort and confidence you have from practicing. (I admit…I need to do this more often!)
  • Type the outline in a plain font in order to make it easy to read. I also like to use a large font (14-18), bold text, and green or red font color on my outlines. I use these two colors because our eyes focus on them easier (which is why the lights at the intersection are green and red).
  • If you have more than one page for the outline, when printing it out, avoid the urge to print on both sides of the paper. This will help keep you from flipping the pages and causing a distraction. Instead, you will be able to discreetly slide the pages from one side of the lectern to the other.
  • Speaking of lecterns…if the lectern is moveable, I will usually shift it over to one side of the stage, and distance it just far enough for me to effectively use the speaking area while being able to read my outline at a glance. If the font is large enough, the lectern can be several feet away and I’ll still be able to make a quick glance over to it, and see what my next point is.
  • A music stand works perfectly when a lectern is unavailable or impractical. It is small enough to be unobtrusive, and is quite affordable (cheap!). I will usually set it up to where the top of the page is almost at eye level, so I am able to remain in good contact with the audience. On occasion, audience members have told me they did not realize that I was using notes in my presentation, because I was able to just glance at them, and make it look natural.

    My music stand with notes.

    My music stand with notes.

  • If none of these are available, you can use the corner of a table, or even have the notes in hand. I found that carrying my speaking notes in my left hand works best for me, because I use my right hand more when gesturing. I resorted to using this recently at a facilitation where the lighting in the speaking area was insufficient. While someone answered a question or offered feedback, I would take a quick glance at my outline to see my location on the “map.”

Using speaking notes should not be considered a “public speaking felony.” Instead, they should be considered as a tool to help you stay on track and give a better presentation. Don’t be afraid to experiment with using notes – use some of these tips, observe how other speakers use their notes, and find out what works best for you.

When you discover what works for you, help others improve their speaking skills by sharing your knowledge!

Currently, I am in the middle of a great book on public speaking by Scott Berkun, titled Confessions of a Public Speaker. Scott has over 15 years of public speaking experience, and in this book, brings some great insight on the skill of public speaking. It is a very interesting, informative, and honest book that can help anyone improve their public speaking skills.

Click Here to Order Confessions of a Public Speaker

 

Get Back on the Horse – Part II

If you missed Part I of this article, click HERE.

Going for a ride!

Going for a ride!

Earlier in Part I, I described myself as a “gym rat” when I lived in North Carolina.  I lifted weights with friends almost every day.  We scheduled what body parts we would work on, and the exercises we would do every day.  We would improvise and change up the program for fun every now and then.  One of the guys in the group had been lifting for quite a while, and was quite strong.  I would challenge myself by secretly competing with him as we lifted, which is something that helped me immensely.

I was achieving my fitness goals, and was in the best shape of my life!

Then…things changed.

I picked up and moved to Arizona.  It was one of the biggest and best decisions that I have ever made, not just because I gained a wonderful partner in life…my wife Jill…I have also had some great experiences that might have never happened had I decided to stay in my hometown.

The downside to this was that I couldn’t take the gym or my friends with me.  The tools and support that I used to help achieve and maintain my fitness goals were gone.  The plan that I was using was solid as a rock, and I had no “contingency plan” to deal with changes such as this.  Yes, I did join a gym in Arizona, but it wasn’t the same, and after a couple of years of working out on-and-off, I began to falter…and eventually gave up.

I fell off the horse…in a BIG way!

Everything that I had worked so hard for disappeared, and before I knew it, my weight was the highest that it has ever been…255 pounds!  We had bought a home gym with an Olympic barbell set, plus an elliptical for cardio.  However, because I made the decision not to pick myself back up and “get back on the horse,” they just became dust collectors.

Me after falling off the horse...250+ lbs!

Me after falling off the horse…250+ lbs!

 

Why did this happen?

This leads us to what is probably the biggest reason that people give up on their goals:

Goals with no “Game Plan” – This happens when the individual creates the goal without really planning out the necessary steps to take in order to achieve the goal.  It’s like wanting to drive to the next town in a car without a steering wheel…you have everything but a way to guide you to your goal!

The game plan provides guidance toward goal achievement.  To effectively use a game plan, keep these points in mind:

  • The game plan needs to be flexible – Life is not perfect, and the path to achieving our goals will not be perfect either.  Sometimes what works one day stops working the next, or, we find something that works better.  A good phrase to remember is, “Keep your goals set in stone, and your plans set in sand.”
  • Remember, first things first – Be sure to prioritize what needs to be done in order to begin achieving your goal.  What is the first important step to take?  What step do I need to take after that?  And so on…  For example, if your house is a mess, what are the big things you can do to start cleaning it up?  After those tasks are done, what are the medial things?  Then, what small touches can you do to finish up?  It may help to sit down with a piece of paper and draw a “map” of the priorities that need to be taken care of on the pathway to achieving your goal.
  • Many pathways to the destination – It may help for you to sit down and have a brainstorming session to come up with as many ideas as you can that can help you achieve your goal.  Let the ideas flow without judgment.  After you have “flushed out” all of your ideas, evaluate their feasibility according to the tools and talents that are available to you.  Keep the ideas that you deem most effective.  The more pathways that you can create toward your goal, the better!  This creates a “contingency” system.

Back in the Saddle Again!

Using these points, I managed to get back on the “achieving and maintaining my goal weight ‘horse’” a couple of years ago.  I identified the priorities that I needed to focus on, which consisted of staying active and mindful eating.  The workout equipment was pulled out, cleaned up, and made ready to access easily.  My wife and I tried out other ways to get exercise other than lifting weights, and found out that we really enjoy hiking and biking.  There are several contingency plans in place so I can get physical activity in…and have the variety that wasn’t in place before!

On the eating side, I found an app on my phone that helps me keep track of what I eat via a points system.  I make it a point (pun intended) to not eat past my points, and if for some reason I am unable to exercise on a certain day, I make different choices that allow me to leave a few points on the table.

Since starting this program a couple of years ago, I have been able to get back down to a healthy weight range, and maintain it.  I feel great, and because of this healthy lifestyle, my wife and I were able to hike the Grand Canyon from the north rim to the south rim in 15 hours…and plan to do it again in October 2014 with the goal of beating our time!

So, what are your goals for the coming year?  Use these tips to help you create a map to achieving those goals.  Remember – there is no such thing as perfection, and things will not always run smoothly.  Avoid the mindsets and behaviors mentioned in Part I.  And…

Make it a SUCCESSFUL Year!                     

Get Back on the Horse! -Part I

HAPPY 2014!

Get Back on the Horse!

Get Back on the Horse!

We are at the beginning of another New Year, with all the New Year’s resolutions, newly set goals, and the aspirations that accompany them.

Are you one of the millions of people who came up with a New Year’s resolution, or set up a goal to achieve this year?

Does it involve achieving a healthier weight?  Obtaining new and improved skills?  Creating a better lifestyle for you and your family?

Now, the important question…will you work towards achieving your goal, no matter what?

 The fact is that the majority of people who come up with a New Year’s resolution will never see it come to fruition.  The same goes for a lot of people who set goals.  They start out full of excitement and energy, ready to go.

Then after a while, the excitement wanes, or they experience difficulties, and they give up.

I used to see this all the time in the gym.  A few years before I moved to Arizona and wound up buying my own workout equipment, I was a “gym rat.”  We had a YMCA near my hometown in North Carolina where I would lift weights daily with some friends.  We would always dread when New Years came around, because the workout room would fill up with people working on their New Year’s resolution.  The space would be so crowded, we wouldn’t be able to get in a serious lifting session.  After two or three weeks though, things would be back to normal, and we had the space to use once again.

All the people that were excited about achieving their New Year’s resolution vanished!  They “fell off the horse,” gave up, and went back to the way things were.  It was interesting for us to watch.  It was almost entertaining…

…at least it was until I was the one that “fell off the horse.”

I’ll continue that story, and the lesson learned, in Part II…

 

There are several reasons (and excuses!) why people give up on their goals, and yes, I believe that some of the reasons are legitimate.  Here are three of the main reasons why I believe goals are never achieved.  The first two I will share with you now, and the third in Part II:

Fatalistic behavior – This happens when the individual makes a mistake on the journey to accomplishing their goals.  The fatalist says, “I tried and failed, so I might as well give up.”

  • A person may have a goal to achieve a healthy body weight by changing their eating habits.  After having a big, unhealthy meal at a celebration, which doesn’t happen often, they give up on their goal after assuming they have no self-control.  They let one “slip up” bring everything to a crashing halt.

In order to conquer fatalistic behavior, we have to come to the realization that we are human, and because of that, it is guaranteed that we will make mistakes.  What is most important is the action we take after the mistake has been made.  We can choose to learn from the mistake, improve, and continue our journey toward achieving the goal, or give up and continue to live in mediocrity.  There are tons of inspiring stories of people who made mistakes and still found success that you can find to help overcome fatalistic behavior.*

Perfectionist behavior – Everything has to be “just right” in order for the individual to begin working on achieving their goals, thus never really “getting on the horse” to begin with.  The perfectionist says, “Everything has to be perfect and in place – the time, the weather, the day, and more importantly…ME!”

  • An individual joins Toastmasters to learn how to become a better speaker.  They never volunteer to give a speech, and wind up quitting after a few months.  They give various reasons for not speaking, such as “the timing isn’t ‘perfect’,” “I don’t have the ‘perfect’ topic,” or “I haven’t ‘perfected’ my speech yet.”

Perfectionists never really “get on the horse” because they have a myriad of excuses: the time is never right, they are never ready, or there are clouds in the sky.  There is no such thing as perfection…even the most “perfect” diamond has a flaw somewhere!  Perfectionists need a good, and sometimes pushy(!) group of supporters to help them get started, provide useful and positive feedback to help them improve, and keep them moving forward.  Continually letting the individual experience the fact that the world won’t self-destruct because they did an imperfect job is very important, and can help them overcome the need for perfection.

Part II of this article will cover the third category, which is extremely critical in goal-setting…and is often times overlooked.  The reason that I “fell off the horse” in the beginning story has to do with what resides in this category.

I will give you “the rest of the story” in Part II, as well as the lessons that I learned…and continue to learn.  Stay tuned!

 

* a good resource for inspirational stories is Joyce Meyer’s book, “Never Give Up!: Relentless Determination to Overcome Life’s Challenges” on the Self-Talk Products page!  Get it today!

New Situations – Never What You Expect

Overcoming “Bias Blindness” When Entering New Situations

Don't become blinded by bias!

Don’t become blinded by bias!

Have you ever gone into a new situation or met with a new group or individual expecting a negative outcome, because a friend, coworker, or relative gave you negative feedback about them?

Maybe they told you the group that you are considering joining lacked professionalism.

Maybe they didn’t trust the person you’re about to meet, because they got a bad feeling about the individual, and felt they should warn you.

Maybe the organization that you want to check out didn’t live up to your friend’s expectations.

Did you come out of the meeting surprised because you had a positive experience…which was the exact opposite of what you were expecting?

It is understandable that our friends and relatives are looking out for our best interest, and mean well when they give us their opinions and feedback on the new situations that we are about to face.  However, their feedback can cause our opinions to become biased before we even walk in the door!

By nature, humans have their own beliefs and biases.  Please don’t get me wrong…bias is not necessarily a bad thing.  When used correctly, it can help keep our awareness up (some might call it the “B.S. detector”) and keep us out of trouble.  The problem is that sometimes we let our biased thoughts take over and blind us to the truth…especially when it comes to working and dealing with other people.

How can you avoid being ‘blinded’ by bias when entering a new situation?

Here are some tips:

  • Consider the source – Do you consider the person a “go to” person for advice and information?  How well do you trust their advice?  Is their opinion and advice fair and balanced?  Or are they making assumptions?
  • Separate the facts from the opinions – Be sure to actively listen to your source when describing their experience.  How critical are the words they are choosing?  How much emotion is behind what they are saying?  If your source is being overly critical or emotional, it may be a good idea to try to find out what else could have skewed their opinion.  What was their mindset when they went into the situation?  Maybe they      weren’t feeling well, had a bad experience earlier that day, or maybe they just woke up on the wrong side of bed that day, and looked at everything in a negative manner.  The same could be said for an overly complementary opinion also.
  • Go into the situation/meeting with an open mind – Do your best to set aside your bias, and avoid looking for ways to confirm what others have told you.  Remind yourself that everything in the situation or event will not run perfectly.  When a “hiccup” happens, look for the logical reason of why it happened before making it an opportunity to confirm your bias.
  • Ask questions and listen actively – Try to get as much knowledge and insight as you can.  Can you prove the biased opinions wrong?
  • After you have done everything else, come to your own conclusion.  It may either agree or disagree with what you were told.  The good thing is that you were able to make your own informed decision without being clouded by someone else’s bias.

I recently had the chance to practice these steps when meeting with a new group.  The information and reports that I received on this group, which came from trusted sources, were not very flattering.  As I waited in the empty meeting room for a meeting that was supposed to begin in a few minutes, I could feel the biased thoughts rising.

The meeting did begin a little late…because the group members were in a meeting with management that went a couple of minutes long.  We had a very enjoyable meeting.  Had I let the biased thoughts continue, my experience probably wouldn’t have been as good.  Later, I had an in-depth discussion with the group’s leader.  I found out the reasons behind the not-so-flattering information…the group has faced some recent challenges, and needs some guidance.  A wonderful leadership opportunity!

Had I allowed the bias to keep me ‘blinded,’ things would have turned out differently.

Please remember to use these tips when entering new situations that people have offered their opinions on.  Keep an open mind, ask questions, and listen actively before coming to your own conclusions.

Who knows…you may uncover a great opportunity!

Unaware – Cellphone “Zombies”

Zombie_Cellphones

Sad, but true.

I frequently ride my bike in a community that is about three miles from my home.  It’s a pretty safe community to ride in…not an excessive amount of traffic.  Most of the time, I ride out there, “make a few laps,” then ride back.

On my way back the other day, I happened to notice several high school kids who were waiting on their bus.  They never noticed me, though.  Every one of them had their heads buried in their phones…unaware of the world around them.

They were like zombies…”cellphone zombies!”

The use of electronic gadgets has become the norm in our society.  You can’t go down the street without seeing someone talking on the phone or texting…even when they shouldn’t be.  These gadgets have made keeping in touch with other people easier and faster.  With a few “Swypes” or taps on the keyboard, we can send out a message to hundreds, or thousands, of people…our connections, customers, and “friends.”  Hey, it’s one of the reasons why I started this blog!

These gadgets can do so much for us…however, there’s a trade-off.

While they give us the ability to connect to others with ease and speed, they are slowly taking away our awareness and ability to make real connections with others.

As I have stated in a past article or two, over the past few years I have developed a huge interest in human behavior, and am constantly in “observation mode.”  As I observed the behavior (or better yet-lack of behavior) of these kids as I rode by, I could not help but think to myself, “They would be easy targets for someone looking to take advantage of unsuspecting people.”  They were so entranced by the activity on their smartphones; their awareness of the world around them just seemed to disappear…as if they were wearing blinders!

Unfortunately, there are people in this world that are searching for unsuspecting targets…just like these kids.  How many times have you heard the victim of a crime say that the perpetrator just “came out of nowhere”?  I am willing to bet that 9 times out of 10, the perpetrator chose their victim based on their lack of awareness.  They were simply not paying attention, and became the next victim.

We have all probably seen and heard other examples, where “accidents” happened because someone was distracted by their electronic gadgets – talking and texting while driving, getting injured while walking and being distracted, falling into fountains at the mall, etc…  All could have been avoided with a little more awareness.

Awareness and connection with others go hand-in-hand.  To make a real connection with our fellow human beings, we need to be aware of their body language, facial expressions, and vocal expressions.  We slowly lose that awareness with texting, emailing, and messaging.

And I’m sorry to say…emoticons don’t really help convey a true emotional connection! :(

To have that real connection, we need to be around real people every now and then, who are thinking, feeling, and expressing their thoughts and feelings.

We don’t get that experience with cold words on a screen.

For example, right now as I am typing out this blog, I am feeling very passionate about what I am saying, however, you are unable to really feel the passion because I am not in front of you speaking this…with all of the emotion and intention.  With all of my “humanness.”

This connection is important, because it’s how we get our feedback from other people.  It’s how we know they are comfortable with us, happy with us, mad at us, or…maybe more importantly…want to do us harm.

I have had several different conversations with individuals who have told me about their experience with younger people who had great abilities when it came to navigating their way through technology.  However, when it came to connecting with others, these young people lacked those skills.  Some told about not being able to hold a descent conversation because of the “disconnection.”  In one conversation, I was told about two young soldiers that lost their lives overseas.  They were caught off-guard when they lowered their awareness and connection level, and misread the body language of the people they were encountering, and were subsequently attacked.

And it’s not just about safety either…how many of you have lost out on opportunities because you were not paying attention?  Or possibly became “voluntold” because you were not paying attention when you should have?

C’mon…be honest!

Opportunities are everywhere…sometimes right in front of people’s faces…however they are too distracted to take advantage of them!  I want you to avoid being one of those people!

Here are some tips on how you can re-gain (or strengthen) your awareness, re-connect with others, and avoid being a “cellphone zombie”:

  • Step away from the electronics!  Take time to “un-plug” from everything (yes, I mean EVERYTHING!) and enjoy some quiet time.  Work on making it a daily habit.  If you are able, try to increase the time as you go along.  Take the time to start a new daily habit of meditation, exercise, or connecting with actual humans face-to-face…whatever works best for you!
  • Do activities that will expand your awareness.  Take a walk around your neighborhood, keeping your phone in your pocket, of course.  Maybe even a hike in nature, or a bike ride through your community.  This will help you get back “in touch” with the world.  Be sure to notice the small things on your journey and any changes you notice from time to time.
  • Continue your education.  Always look for resources to expand your knowledge on body language, facial expressions, communication, and social intelligence.  Join organizations and clubs that will give you the ability to practice this knowledge and the ability to connect with others who are doing the same thing.  You will be surprised at the difference this will make in your life!  The more you know about connecting with other people and the more awareness you gain, the better off you will be!
  • Teach your children!  In my opinion, this is the most important step, because it’s not being taught in school.  Teaching your children how to heighten their awareness and connect with others will not only bolster their social skills, it could save their life.  Teaching these skills will also help to reinforce them in your memory.  Plus, kids (especially young kids) are really good at “calling us out” whenever we don’t follow our own rules.

 

As I wrote earlier, I am passionate about this subject; and believe it is something we as a society need to really focus on.  We have so many distractions around us nowadays, and they can leave us vulnerable to people who want to harm us, and unable to make a real connection with others.

If you do nothing else, please at least take the time to practice the last two tips that are listed on here.  They will make a huge impact in your future and the future of our nation’s children.