The thought process

“Perspective can change when viewed with a different light”

There have been lots of variations on the statement, “You either grow or you die” and with very few exceptions, it’s generally true. Human beings have the ability to grow in several ways but perhaps the most important is what’s commonly known as personal development. This includes mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. Although some of these may overlap, it’s prudent that each one of these categories has your attention. My emphasis is on the emotional and spiritual part of this journey. While I would never argue these two are the most important, they are my passion and I continue to strive to do a better job. However, just because I help others does not mean it takes the place of my own continued progress.

Having a career which focuses on helping others is remarkably rewarding; especially seeing the progression from session to session. This however, only reaffirms the importance of continuing my own growth. Otherwise, I may be shortchanging those whom I am supposed to serve.

One of the best ways for my personal growth is constantly reviewing my own thinking and the patterns which developed as a child. Last week’s article in particular, highlighted an example of how I didn’t want to even consider the error in my judgement. This is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts for anyone to accept for themselves.

It’s so easy to see the faults in others. If you were asked to disclose a minimum of 3 foibles about 5 different people you know, this would probably take less than 3 minutes to accomplish. We are keen on seeing the flaws and shortcomings in others mainly because it doesn’t cause any pain to do so.

Imagine for a moment, using that same critical eye through which we view those around us, and turning it on ourselves. What if you could critique yourself as easily as you can a co-worker or an acquaintance? Those times when you just had to tell someone who had no clue about their obnoxious behavior or some other offensive conduct; would you not hesitate to tell yourself the same?

Let’s revisit that list of 5 different people that you were going to describe 3 of their faults. How many of those 5 people, if they were asked the same question, would include you on their list?

For those of you who’ve read several of my articles, I hope the one thing that stands out is the idea of changing ourselves rather than expecting others to change. Furthermore, was there ever a time during one of those articles when you thought another person should really be reading this?

Seeing imperfections, flaws, or weaknesses in others isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s part of what I and other coaches need to do. The problem occurs when those observations become complaints or idle chatter; only expressed in ways which are meant to degrade or harm.

This week, when something reminds you of a fault in others, shine that light back towards you. See if looking at it in a different light will provide you a whole new perspective.

My thanks to Martina Misar-Tummeltshammer for the beautiful photo. There are more breathtaking photos of that same location here. I look forward to your comments.

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I’ve never thought about it that way

Artwork “Devine Oneness” by Katja Koevoet

“Seeing from a bird’s eye point of view brings a whole new perspective.”

Personal development is gaining broad appeal as well it should. One of the key components to self-growth is being able to take an extremely critical look at our own selves and discern what needs to be changed. Last week’s article discussed how thinking patterns we developed as children can be a huge barricade to our growth. However, there are times when the truth is blaringly obvious, but we look the other way because of the consequences it may bring.

This was one of the most eye-opening and transformative concepts I discovered after starting therapy. My 22-year marriage crumbled and I was feeling like a total failure. Oddly enough, that feeling created a mindset which allowed me to look openly at anything that might be an issue. There was nothing I wouldn’t consider about myself because I was determined to “fix” what was wrong. I carefully reviewed my thoughts and actions, and even considered how or if I loved my wife at the time.

I always considered myself a decent person and dedicated to the marriage. But in May, 2011, everything changed. It wasn’t until a couple years passed when I realized that although I loved her, it wasn’t the kind of love which sustains healthy relationships. Here is where my thinking got in the way. Had anyone approached me in April of 2011 and said, “You know John, you are not really in love with your wife,” I would have vehemently objected. My response would have been something like, “There’s no man on this planet who loves his wife as much or more than I do”!

While this is a reasonable response from a married man, I would have answered that way because of this reasoning: what kind of a terrible husband would I be if I didn’t love her that much? How horrible of a human would I have be to live with someone for that long and not be completely in love? I didn’t even want to consider the slightest notion that I had fallen out of love with her because then I would deem myself a bad person. Even though there were clues pointing this out, my thinking was clouded and I refused to face it.

It’s natural to be proud of our mind and what we can accomplish with it. The amount of information which can be stored and the ability to put that data logically together is quite a feat. But when it comes to self-assessment, it’s also important to balance that with a frankness and honesty; especially at times when it may appear to insult or offend our own intellect. This kind of candor, however, has more to do with depth of character, integrity, and seeking a greater purpose beyond ourselves.

We can’t learn when we are surrounded only by things which don’t challenge our understanding and getting out of our comfort zone is the best way to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. There’s not much more that makes a person uncomfortable than realizing there’s something mistaken in our thinking. This week, take some time and examine difficult issues from your past and see if there was a part of your thinking where you can now get a whole new perspective.

My thanks to Katja Koevoet for the beautiful work of art. Find out more about her on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and her website. You’re sure to find her perspective unique and creative. I look forward to your comments.

Let me think about that

Artwork “The Spirit within” by Katja Koevoet

“Change happens when we change the way we think about ourselves.”

In the world of personal development and self-growth, the basic principle is to discern what it is about ourselves that needs changing – hence the words “personal” and “self”. This is a continual theme in my articles. The opening quote is one of my favorites as well as one which I pen in every one of my books I sell. Perhaps I emphasize how we think about ourselves so much because it was a huge stumbling block to my own personal growth.

In 2012, when my 22-year marriage was hanging by a thread, I searched for a therapist to see if this once-happy union could be saved. After setting the appointment, I recall thinking, “I don’t want to go in there, lie on a couch and have him ask me a bunch of questions about my childhood.” The circumstances were dire and grave. I didn’t have time to go into all that malarkey. I needed a solution now!

It makes me chuckle when I remember that demand. Although the relationship could not to be saved, all of my issues contributing to the breakup were basically caused by how I learned to think when I was a child. Yes, you read that correctly, “how I learned to think.” I may not be using the proper neurological or psychological terms but when we are young we develop behavioral models which I call “default patterns” that innately dictate certain actions and reactions in our day-to-day decisions.

At an early age, I was very worried about doing the wrong thing and looked to others not only for advice but also to tell me what I needed to do. Whether it was my mother, teacher, coach, or minister, for some reason, I didn’t believe that I could find those answers from within and therefore had to be told what to do. Needless to say, I was mostly an obedient child.

This, however, created a tremendous lack of self-confidence when it came to making life choices and decisions, constantly seeking the approval of others before moving forward. It was not a daily occurrence but happened in all the major decisions. This kind of thinking became my “default pattern” so it felt “normal” for me to react in this way.

Not realizing this was the case, when I got married those patterns remained. My wife at the time was a recently divorced, mother of three, attractive, and had much more worldly knowledge than I. My thinking was, “tell me what I need to do to be a good husband, father, and provider.” There were many times when something as simple as where should we go to dinner was a mind-game for me trying to think what she would want to eat.

These kinds of self-limiting patterns spring from negative ideas that we learn to believe about who we are – which by the way, is how I define shame. Over the next few articles, we’ll discuss ways of how and why these patterns develop and most importantly, how they can be changed and healed. My hope is that you’ll discover some disruptive pattern that you had no idea existed and learn to change the way you think about you.

My thanks to Katja Koevoet for the beautiful art piece. We recently connected on LinkedIn and she is an amazing, autodidact (self-taught) digital painter and photographer. Her passion has already won her awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook or her website for more information. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The Final Examination

“A passing grade does not guarantee one understands the subject.”

Welcome to the fourth and final class of Happiness 101. In prior lessons, the object was to present happiness with thought-provoking and stimulating ideas inspiring you to approach this subject in ways you’d never dreamed. If you were able to break down and expand old barriers and notions of your previous beliefs on this topic, then you definitely passed the final exam. I always took the approach that happiness is what an individual makes of it. There were only 2 criteria that would not fit in any definition. The first is that your happiness should never be at the expense of another and secondly, if you criticized other’s thoughts about it.

Interestingly enough, there is a scientific study on happiness which at its origin, never had that objective in mind. In 1939, Harvard University launched the Cohort – Grant Study tracking the development of 75 men specifically focusing on mental and physical health. In 1944, they added men from Boston’s inner city to see if environment and education levels affected any outcomes. In 2015, current director of the study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, gave a TED Talk on the main outcome it has produced so far and that is: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Had we the luxury of a full term of classes, no doubt this study would have been closely scrutinized for why that conclusion was made. I’ll leave that to your extra curricular activities but I would highly suggest listening to the 15 minute TED Talk.

It wouldn’t be a real discussion without some pushback or disagreement of this study (and I’m hoping to see some in the comments as well). Ironically, I immediately thought of an octogenarian who defies some of the criteria from this study. This person has a sharp and quick mind as well as being in excellent health. Many would also agree this person looks much younger than others in a similar age bracket.

Far be it from me to say that the Harvard Study is not correct. What I am saying is that we are all individuals and sometimes we can defy statistics. This is a ray of hope for those who have not been in successful relationships for most of their lives. Nothing should ever dictate to you how you ought to be happy; explaining precisely why I believe that happiness is what each person ascribes and decides what it means.

In today’s world where division and strife seem to have overtaken the concept of happiness, the Harvard Study clinched one belief for me. The idea of relationships – and not just a marriage or partner but all types – is the key ingredient causing all the prevailing contention, isolation, and discrimination. Disagreement with someone is never settled by conflict or violence. True strength is shown when we can sincerely listen to those who hold differing opinions and learn to get along. Working on building and maintaining all relationships not only brings us happiness but will cause it naturally to overflow onto others.

My thanks to Joel Holland on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and don’t forget to leave your final test answers in the comments.