Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making the Most of a New Year: Leveraging the Power of Mantras

“When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.” –Greg  Anderson

As another year winds down, I inevitably find myself thinking about New Year’s resolutions.  This is a structure in my life that has historically worked for me.   This is not a post about how to set goals; for some great guidance on goal setting, take a look at this post on Zen Habits

While I do have some concrete goals in the areas of health, career, education, and relationships, this year, I wanted to try something different. 

I've decided to use mantras to guide my actions.  A mantra is defined as a commonly repeated word or phrase.  The word "mantra" is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first is "manas" or "mind," which provides the "man" syllable. The second syllable is drawn from the Sanskrit word "trai" meaning to "protect" or to "free from." Therefore, the word mantra in its most literal sense means "to free from the mind."

After much thought, here are my three mantras for the next year:

1.)       Make it Count.
2.)       Focus.

3.)       Be patient.

The work I did to choose these came from taking an inventory of my life over the last year.  While the purpose of the life inventory was to celebrate the achievements and wins I had in 2010, the point was also to take an honest look at the learning that came from missed opportunities, or falling short of my intended targets.

"Dissatisfaction is a great starting point, for it is right there that we have the most power,
strength, and energy to push change through." - David DeNotaris

Reflecting on your missed opportunities does not mean that you should beat yourself up about your perceived failures.   After all, failure is one of the most important teachers we’ve got in life.  What I do know is that nothing motivates me like knowing that an incremental increase in effort could have yielded an exponential difference in the outcome.

1.)          Make it Count

“I figure life’s a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count.” - Jack Dawson, Titanic

I chose this mantra to challenge me to rise above going through the motions; to remind myself to be the driver in my life, and not the passenger.  I will use this mantra to remind me to make the most of each effort that I am expending. I see myself using this mantra by asking questions such as:  “How can I make each moment count?”   

Or more specifically:

“How can I make this workout count?”
“How can I make this meal I am eating count?”
“How can I make this school assignment count?”
“How can I make this meeting count?”

I’m hoping that the very act of pausing to ask myself this question will allow me to live more presently in each moment, and to create a natural tendency to pull in the next two mantras.

2.)          Focus

“Whatever you focus on expands.” – Christopher M. Knight

While I view my natural penchant for being curious as a blessing on most days, I acknowledge that it can also cause my focus to be spread too thin at times.  So in addition to encouraging myself to make my actions count and to focus on the task at hand, I am also embracing this mantra as a reminder to stay focused on the three or four big goals I have set myself for the year.  Before taking on anything new, I will ask myself if focusing on this task or project will move me closer to achieving one of my goals.  If the answer is a no, then I know that now is not the time to be devoting energy to that project or task.

3.)          Be Patient.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” -Unknown

This last mantra will probably be the hardest for me to listen to; when considering the amount of work required to achieve a particular goal, I often get overwhelmed and want to surrender before I’ve even begun.  I love this quote about how to eat an elephant because it reminds me that any big undertaking can only ever be completed one action at a time. In reflecting on significant milestones in my life, many of them required patience that I evidently must have had to have achieved them. To know that I was patient with my process in the past lets me know that I can tap into that patience again because it IS in there somewhere.

I will keep you posted over the next year, with a periodic post about how my mantras are working for me.

What will your mantra (s) be for 2011?

Wishing you a fantastic 2011 ahead!

“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't.  It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
- Barack Obama

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's Your "Ace"?

Your talents, your strongest synaptic connections, are the most important raw material for strength building,  Identify your most powerful talents, hone them with skills and knowledge, and you will be well on your way to living the strong life.”
-Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, authors of Now, Discover Your Strengths

I had coffee with a friend recently and had a great a-ha moment to go with my latte. 
We were discussing a conflict I was experiencing with another friend and how I was dealing with the situation.  Somehow the flow of conversation got us to talking about empathy; while I felt that my response to the conflict was weak, he defined my approach as empathic.  We were on two different sides of the coin in terms of our perspective; he saw empathy as a personal strength to be admired, and I saw empathy as a weakness to be overcome. 

I should probably put some context here otherwise you might be asking yourself “What kind of life coach sees empathy as a weakness as opposed to a strength?” There have been times, in my work in the non-profit sector, when I just didn’t want to care anymore.  Not because I didn’t care about what I was doing, or the population we were serving, but because I was beginning to feel that the experience was becoming too draining, and also because I wondered if the intensity of the emotion was affecting my ability to make the right decisions.  I have discussed this experience with other friends in the non-profit sector and they have echoed these sentiments (emotional burnout).

In making the transition into the corporate sector a few years ago, one of my main objectives was to work more from the energy of my mind, rather than my emotional energy.   That was definitely easier said than done.

Coming back to my discussion with my friend, he listened to me describe why I was seeing empathy as a weakness (in my situation)and how I wished there were a dial on the ability that I could turn up or turn down as needed.  He surprised me when his response was “But that’s your ace!” My first instinct was to dismiss his comment. He went on to explain “we’re all dealt a hand of abilities in life, (by the cosmic dealer I guess?) and it’s up to us how we work this hand.”   I honestly couldn't argue with his logic.  It made sense.  His comments reminded me of the essence of Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths; we need to focus on strengths and find ways to manage our weaknesses. Below is an online summary of the book:

Most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths. Instead, guided by our parents, our teachers, our managers and psychology's fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.

At the heart of Now, Discover Your Strengths, is the Internet-based StrengthsFinder® Profile, the product of a 25-year, multimillion dollar effort to identify the most prevalent human strengths. The program introduces 34 dominant "themes" with thousands of possible combinations, and reveals how they can best be translated into personal and career success.

I remember finding the message of this book refreshing when I read it a few years back; in a world where the education system, our upbringing, and most obviously employee professional development programs usually work to develop one’s weaknesses, the rationale espoused in this book actually made sense to me.  While I did identify with the message of this book at the time, somewhere along the way I lost it.   What I ultimately learned from my time away from the non-profit sector is that the very thing that I was trying to avoid was the one thing that I missed the most; the feeling that I was truly making a difference in my community. 

My friend’s comment reminded me that rather than to waste time suppressing or resisting my abilities, whatever they may be, it would be a better use of my energy to embrace my strengths, and to do work that leverages these strengths. 

The work of changing my inner script is not easy but I am working to “Embrace my Ace.”  I know that the message is sinking in because the opportunities I now focus my attention on engage my passions and my talents.

What’s your Ace? 
Are you leveraging it or letting it atrophy?