Archive | September, 2017

Optimism Rules: Why We Should Embrace Good News… Despite the Headlines

Is the world really going, as my grandfather used to say, “to hell in a hand basket?”

Reflecting on the headlines in recent weeks, you might be tempted to think so. Two devastating hurricanes displacing millions, a destructive earthquake in Mexico plus racial violence, global terrorism, renewed threats of nuclear confrontation… the list goes on.

Not so fast…

Before you conclude that things are worse than they’ve ever been and our children and grandchildren are consigned to a far more difficult life than we’ve known, let’s look at the facts. According to research, the most salient indicators of human flourishing–food, sanitation, poverty, violence, literacy, freedom, and the conditions of childhood–have all vastly improved in the last generation. Some examples:

1. Contrary to the belief among most Americans that worldwide poverty is getting worse, the number of people living in “extreme poverty” (less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations), is decreasing by over 100,000 people every day. Similarly every 24-hours, more than 300,000 people throughout the globe gain access to electricity–unprecedented in human history.

2. Worldwide child mortality, a long-established barometer of living standard, has fallen by over 55% in less than one generation. Again, this is unprecedented in human history.

3. According to national statistics, violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years.

4. At the turn of the century, the average life expectancy was just 31 years (due in large part to rampant child mortality). Today, it’s well over twice that–71 years.

In addition, consider that the most superfluous comforts we experience today were, as late as the dawn of the 20th century, unimaginable luxuries. And only a few hundred years ago, a family of six children in a western country like Germany considered themselves incredibly fortunate if four of them survived to see their eighth birthday. (As a parent of three and uncle of twelve, I couldn’t imagine how painful this would be.)

These and other facts compelled NY Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof to call 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.” 2017 may well be even more promising.

As I write this, understand that I am an eternal optimist, primarily because my life experience has been such that I’ve never had a compelling reason to view life as anything but positive. I completely understand that others have not been so fortunate, and I empathize with people who have endured unexpected tragedy and hardship.

But the fact is, negativity has been ingrained in our culture for a long time. Performance coach Ben Bergeron, in his NY Times Best Selling book, Chasing Excellence, notes:

“Almost two-thirds of English words convey the negative side of things. Positivity, therefore, must be a learned behavior.”

With so many positive trends in the world taking place in our lifetimes, why does optimism seem so counter-cultural?

The most obvious reason is the media, whose ratings-driven agenda sensationalizes the negative. Apparently, good news doesn’t sell–at least that’s what can be concluded from the current headlines. If it’s true that, as a cynical journalist once quipped, “no one wants to hear about a plane taking off… only when it crashes,” then the media plays a significant part in skewing public perception toward a negative, even nihilistic, view of the world.

But to me, the more troublesome and convicting reason is the responsibility that we play in our own dim view of things. Writing in the Breakpoint commentary, best selling author and radio host Eric Metaxis notes:

“Quite simply, we often enjoy being angry about the state of the world, especially when it allows us to blame someone else. We are addicted to news-induced anger.”

Author Brené Brown coined the term “common enemy intimacy” to describe how our mutual anger and frustration–usually at some person, political party, or institution–becomes a replacement for openness, curiosity, and optimism. How true.

I don’t mean to understate some of the difficult problems facing the world today. There are plenty of vexing cultural, technological, moral, and environmental concerns. But there’s also plenty of reason to be positive–there is no better time in all of human history to be alive, and the future looks bright as well. (And for Christians like me, we have all the more reason to be optimistic in light of God’s promise to redeem and restore all things. In fact, the New Testament actually mandates that Believers focus on the positive–see Philippians 4:8)

Yet, as Metaxis concludes:

“That’s why it’s so important—while acknowledging the desperate evil and suffering around us—to appreciate the good news, the progress, and the things we have to celebrate. After all, how can we truly comprehend what’s wrong with the world if we don’t recognize when something is going right?”

What do you think about the state of the world? Do you think things are getting better or worse… and how does your attitude towards the future shape your hopes, dreams, and plans?

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Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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What a Record Setting Cyclist Can Teach Us About Achievement

Ever since I started doing Crossfit several years ago, I’ve been drawn to stories of people who lean into physical challenges, from super- intense workouts (Crossfit calls them “Hero WOD’s”) to the achievements of differently abled athletes and others with physical limitations who push themselves beyond what they thought was possible.

Of all the amazing stories out there, 24-year old Amanda Coker‘s recent cycling milestone blew me away.

Amanda averaged 237 miles per day on her bike (12 hours of constant riding) for 365 days–from May 14, 2016 to May 15, 2017–on a seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Thonotosassa, Florida to set a new world record for most miles biked in one year…86,573 miles.

To put that into perspective, a good amateur cyclist rides 300 – 600 miles a month. The best ride 800 -1000 miles a month. Then there’s Amanda: She averaged 237.1 miles a day–that’s 7,211 miles a month–for 12 consecutive months. That defies the limits of performance.

The previous women’s record was 29,603 and the men’s was 76,076 miles. Not only did she nearly triple the previous women’s world record of 29,603 but she also blew away the men’s record by well over 10,000 miles!

During this grueling 52-week journey, here are just a few examples of what Amanda overcame:
– Temperatures ranging from 27 to 114 degrees.
– Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine and Tropical Storm Colin plus floods and lightning.
– Just 5 – 7 hours of sleep per night.
– 6,000 – 6,500 calories burned per day.

In addition, Amanda suffered road rash from run-ins with rogue riders, saddles sores she would “rather not discuss in detail,” and consistent skepticism from the endurance athlete community who doubted such a feat was even possible.

The Bigger Question: Why?

After discovering cycling as a teenager, Amanda began racing, placing 6th in the junior national championships in 2010. A year later, while riding with her father near their home in North Carolina, she was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous other injuries. Unable to attend school or work, Amanda began to withdraw from life, suffering from anxiety and depression as she faced an uncertain future. Then, in 2015, sensing the need to break what had become a pattern of lethargy and self-pity, she decided to get back on the bike.

At the urging of friends and a record-breaking cyclist named Kurt Searvogel, (the men’s world record holder) she set her mind–and her body–to the seemingly impossible task of 365 straight days of cycling.

The sheer tenacity she displayed in logging hundreds of miles day after day not only strengthened Amanda’s sense of purpose and resolve, it inspired others to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations as well. In fact, so many riders who showed up at Flatwoods Park to ride with Amanda have set their own personal records that they created a large poster with the names of the “100 and 200 mile club” to document their achievements.

Granted, most of us will never accomplish anything physically close to Amanda’s remarkable achievement, but there’s a lot that we can learn from her grueling and gritty journey. Here are three that stand out to me:

1) There is virtually nothing you face that is insurmountable. For years, no one thought it was possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. (Some medical experts said it was impossible–that the cardiovascular system could not process oxygen fast enough through the bloodstream). Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister changed the world’s thinking–and within a few years numerous other athletes duplicated the feat. Like the 4 minute mile, Amanda’s feat should convince us all that we are capable of so much more than the comforts of modern life cause us to settle for. If a 24 year old woman who nearly died a few years before can summon the mental and physical toughness to endure 12 hours a day in 90 degree heat on her bike, what excuse could we possibly make not to commit a fraction of the time and effort to strengthen our minds and bodies?

2) The power of why. I can only imagine how often Amanda was tempted to give up, but the searing memory of her life-altering accident (her father was also seriously injured) created a sense of purpose so strong that nothing–not even two of the strongest Florida hurricanes in a decade–could stop her. Instead of giving into bitterness, Amanda instead channeled her emotions into a burning desire to rise above her setback, bringing many others along with her. In her popular TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, neuroscientist Angela Duckworth explains that the more people can see meaning in their work that extends beyond their own personal interests, the higher their level of passion, persistence, and achievement.

3) Routine rules. As author and peak performance expert James Clear notes, the most successful people in any field don’t point to their passion or motivation in reaching their goals. Instead, most learn how to, as Clear puts it, “fall in love with boredom.” Consider the monotony Amanda must have experienced as she endlessly circled the 7-mile Flatwoods loop–34 laps a day– for 365 consecutive days, 12 hours a day. It’s almost incomprehensible to me. But it makes a compelling point: Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but only a tiny fraction of people have the tenacity to embrace the discipline of continuous and deliberate practice.

I realize that, to some, devoting a year of your life to riding a bike for 12 hours a day is, at best, misguided and, at worse, pure insanity. But in a society increasingly dominated by personal comfort, self-gratification, and nearly constant distraction, Amanda’s journey is a fitting reminder of what’s possible when we commit ourselves to a single purpose.

It reminds me of a profound piece of advice Eleanor Roosevelt once gave to a graduating class: “Do something every day that scares you.” In other words, resist the constant pull towards passivity and the urge to settle. Instead, lean into your discomfort and develop the habit of spending time at the edge of your comfort zone.

Have you ever attempted a physically demanding challenge such as a marathon, bike race or a fitness competition? What would it mean to the quality of your life to challenge yourself–physically, mentally, socially or spiritually? Feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your feedback.

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