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Maximize Your Happiness in the New Year

My first big opportunity in the auto business came in the summer of 1986 when my father, determined to avoid the nepotism so prevalent in family-owned businesses, purchased a tiny Ford dealership in Honor, Michigan and commissioned my brother and me to run it by ourselves.

We were thrilled at the prospect of being among the youngest dealership owner/operators in the country. And since it was so small–we opened with seven employees–we personally connected with virtually every customer who walked through our doors, getting to know many of them like family over the years.

I recall one local couple in their early 60’s who purchased a new Ford pickup to haul their newly acquired travel trailer. The husband, having worked in a blue collar job all his life, would tell us how much he was looking forward to retirement. “The last few years have been miserable,” he said, “but when I retire and never have to work another day in my life, then I’ll finally be happy.”

But within four years after his retirement party, the happiness that this hard working man so looked forward to never came: he died of a heart attack.

The Illusion of Happiness

image via ben white photography

Stories like this are all too common; they illuminate a critical perspective of people who live well. Happiness is never a destination. The problem is, we’ve been taught our entire lives that it is–that if you work hard then you will be successful and only then, once you achieve some milestone in your life like getting married, becoming partner in your firm, or, in my customer’s case, retiring from your job, will you be happy.

In his revealing book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares some fascinating findings on the relationship between happiness and accomplishment:

“… New research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around: We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”

Years ago, a friend emailed me a document titled, “The Way to Live” by an anonymous author. I think I’ve shared this simple yet profound treatise on living proactively with hundreds of people:

“We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren’t old enough and we’ll be more content when they are. After that we’re frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire. The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?”

I think the reason this advice resonates so strongly with people is that it’s so intuitively true; at some point in our lives, we’ve all succumbed to this line of thinking.

Here’s the BIG IDEA: As we launch into the New Year, remember that the road to a successful and prosperous 2018 doesn’t culminate in happiness… it begins with it.

What compromises are you making in the pursuit of maximizing your happiness? What would it mean to the quality of your life if your sense of well being wasn’t connected to any future outcome or circumstance, but to the joy of the journey?

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Whatever the Project Is, Start Today

It’s almost time for us to welcome the new year of 2018! One of the many things I love about the Christmas and New Year holiday season is reflecting and planning: Looking back on the key themes and accomplishments of the year gone by while setting ambitious goals for the coming year. Here’s a question for you:

If the last year of your life were a movie, what would be the genre?

What I like about this question is it acknowledges a subtle truth: Your life is not a series of isolated events; instead, your life is connected to a bigger story.

Jim Rohn is one of the most influential business philosophers and personal development authors of our time. His article, 13 Ways to Improve Your Life, continues to inspire me and this year, as the SwingShift and the Stars season officially comes to a close on December 31st, #8 really stood out to me:

8. Invest your profits.
Here’s one of the philosophies that my mentor, Earl Shoaff, gave me: Profits are better than wages. Wages make you a living, profits make you a fortune. Could we start earning profits while we make a living? The answer is yes.

As Jim mentions below, “faith without action serves no useful purpose” — and Love INC is an organization that truly embodies this famous saying. They serve as a cooperative effort between churches and community agencies to provide effective help for our neighbors in need. Love INC is doing work that no other organization is doing–and they need our help. Your donation becomes part of Love INC’s story, and therefore part of your neighbor’s story–your action will make a big impact! And giving back in this way becomes part of your story now and in the years to come. Before the SwingShift donation deadline of December 31st passes, I’d like to humbly make one final request for you to join me in supporting Love INC. (And it’s your last chance to make that tax-deductible donation for the year!)

I’m a big advocate of laying the groundwork for setting clear, compelling goals with actionable steps and New Years resolutions are no exception. It’s a wonderful time to create goals that will inspire, motivate, and positively change you all year long.

But why do so many of us wait until New Year’s Eve to create these goals and start making change?

Why not now?

For my final blog post of 2017, I’d like to share Jim Rohn’s inspiring article, Whatever The Project Is, Start Today. 

Prove to yourself that the waiting is over and the hoping is past—that faith and action have now taken charge.

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Whatever the project is, start today.

Knowledge fueled by emotion equals action. Action is the ingredient that ensures results. Only action can cause reaction—and only positive action can cause positive reaction.

All of that said, there are still so many people who are really sold on affirmations. There is a famous saying that “faith without action serves no useful purpose”—and how true that is! Now, there is nothing bad about affirmations when they are used as a tool to create action. Repeated to reinforce a disciplined plan, affirmations can help create wonderful results.

But there is also a very thin line between faith and folly. You see, affirmations without action can be the beginnings of self-delusion. And for your well-being, there is little worse than self-delusion.

The man who dreams of wealth and yet walks daily toward certain financial disaster and the woman who wishes for happiness and yet thinks thoughts and commits acts that lead her toward certain despair are both victims of the false hope—which affirmations without action can manufacture. Why? Because words soothe and, like a narcotic, they lull us into a state of complacency. Remember this: To make progress, you must actually get started!

The key is to take a step today. Whatever the project is, start today. Start clearing out a drawer of your desk… today. Start setting your first goal… today. Start listening to something motivational… today. Start putting money in your new “investment for fortune” account…today. Write a long-overdue letter… today. Anyone can! Even an uninspired person can start reading inspiring books.

Get some momentum going on your new commitment for the good life. See how many activities you can pile on your new commitment to the better life. Go all out! Break away from the downward pull of gravity. Start your thrusters going. Prove to yourself that the waiting is over and the hoping is past—that faith and action have now taken charge.

It’s a new day, a new beginning for your new life. With discipline you will be amazed at how much progress you’ll be able to make. What have you got to lose except the guilt and fear of the past?

Now, I offer you this challenge: See how many things you can start and continue in this—the first day of your new beginning.

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Growing Generosity at Christmas

Christmas is upon us! With only a few days left until the big holiday, there’s an increased amount of hurried busyness and rushing around with last minute preparations. I’m trying to intentionally take a ‘time-out’ to reflect on a few important items this Christmas. I hope you’ll join me.

What exactly IS Christmas? I had a recent discussion with my friend, Pastor Nick Twomey, in which he shared that nearly 49% of Americans now believe that Christmas is a cultural holiday–nothing more. It got us thinking–and inspired us. Nick and I would like to invite you to the Bill Marsh Hyundai showroom on Saturday, December 23rd, as we explore the true meaning of Christmas, how it relates directly to us as individuals, and how it can transform lives. Can’t make it to the dealership? We’ll be offering the discussion via Facebook Live, as well. We’ll put the coffee on at 8:30am and start the live broadcast at 9:00am. I hope you can join us!

As I explore the true meaning of Christmas, and how to grow generosity during this time of year, it can feel especially difficult with our culture of consumerism. After all, this is the season of giving. I have been honored to support Love INC during this 10th anniversary season of SwingShift and the Stars. We had a blast during the big Disco Ball event on December 15th, and while Sharon and I didn’t ‘win’ the big dance off, Love INC has been winning big by participating in this season of SwingShift, both in raising awareness for the important work they’re doing in the community–work that no other organization is doing!–and in donations. And it’s not over yet! I wanted to offer an encouraging reminder that Love INC’s SwingShift and the Stars campaign continues through December 31st. It’s a great opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation before the end of the year.

And finally, I’m sharing a post from Michael Hyatt entitled Growing Generosity in Your Kids at Christmas. What if for every gift on your wish list, you had to match it with a gift you plan to give? His article offers an inspiring perspective on nurturing the giving spirit in our children–and it definitely extends to adults. Check it out:

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Ahhh, Christmas. It just may be the most wonderful time of the year. Every year, however, parents are reminded of how much our culture has impacted the minds of our children. For instance, we all talk about Christmas being a time of giving — but let’s face it, the first thing kids want to do in December is to make their own Christmas list of what they’ll get, not give.

So here’s an idea.

First, why not start a tradition. Along with creating their own “wish list,” your kids make out a list of the gifts they plan to give away to others. This could include people they know and perhaps people they don’t know. The gifts can be ones they buy with their own money, or some of their own possessions they treasure.

Let’s take it a step further. What if for every gift they put on their wish list, they have to match it with a gift they plan to give away—one of their own toys, dolls, electronic devices, or games? This may just balance their “giving and receiving” experience a bit more. Then, they select a family less fortunate, and make an anonymous drop-off to that family. (Remember “ding dong ditch”?)

I know of a mom and dad who had their kids go through all their toys one December and make two piles. The first pile would include the toys they planned on giving away; the second, toys they felt were worth keeping. (This made room for the new toys they’d soon receive on Christmas.)

The clincher was, this mom and dad talked about sacrificial giving, and shared how they planned to give one of their cars to a needy family. Then, they had their children give away the pile of toys they had planned to keep.

Sacrifice is true generosity. It was hard for a few moments, but unforgettable in the end. Those kids still talk about that incredible experience four years later.

Jesus reminds us:

“This poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned” (Mark 12:43-44).

What can you do this Christmas to teach generosity to your kids? How can you apply the same philosophies to your own adult life? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People

Dr. Travis Bradberry is one of the nation’s leading experts in emotional intelligence. For the past six years, we have utilized his best selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, in leadership development training throughout our company. This week, I’m sharing one of his inspiring newsletter articles, 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People.


Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likeable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likeable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ).

In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding (another person).

These adjectives, and others like them, describe people who are skilled in the social side of emotional intelligence. TalentSmart research data from more than a million people shows that people who possess these skills aren’t just highly likeable, they outperform those who don’t by a large margin.

We did some digging to uncover the key behaviors that emotionally intelligent people engage in that make them so likeable. Here are 13 of the best:

1. They Ask Questions

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to listening is they’re so focused on what they’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost.

A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening, and something as simple as a clarification question shows that not only are you listening, you also care about what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.

2. They Put Away Their Phones

Nothing will turn someone off to you like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When you commit to a conversation, focus all of your energy on the conversation. You will find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself in them.

3. They Are Genuine

Being genuine and honest is essential to being likeable. No one likes a fake. People gravitate toward those who are genuine because they know they can trust them. It is difficult to like someone when you don’t know who they really are and how they really feel.

Likeable people know who they are. They are confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin. By concentrating on what drives you and makes you happy as an individual, you become a much more interesting person than if you attempt to win people over by making choices that you think will make them like you.

4. They Don’t Pass Judgment

If you want to be likeable you must be open-minded. Being open-minded makes you approachable and interesting to others. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is not willing to listen.

Having an open mind is crucial in the workplace where approachability means access to new ideas and help. To eliminate preconceived notions and judgment, you need to see the world through other people’s eyes. This doesn’t require you believe what they believe or condone their behavior, it simply means you quit passing judgment long enough to truly understand what makes them tick. Only then can you let them be who they are.

5. They Don’t Seek Attention

People are averse to those who are desperate for attention. You don’t need to develop a big, extroverted personality to be likeable. Simply being friendly and considerate is all you need to win people over. When you speak in a friendly, confident, and concise manner, you will notice that people are much more attentive and persuadable than if you try to show them you’re important. People catch on to your attitude quickly and are more attracted to the right attitude than what—or how many people—you know.

When you’re being given attention, such as when you’re being recognized for an accomplishment, shift the focus to all the people who worked hard to help you get there. This may sound cliché, but if it’s genuine, the fact that you pay attention to others and appreciate their help will show that you’re appreciative and humble—two adjectives that are closely tied to likeability.

6. They Are Consistent

Few things make you more unlikeable than when you’re all over the place. When people approach you, they like to know whom they’re dealing with and what sort of response they can expect. To be consistent you must be reliable, and you must ensure that even when your mood goes up and down it doesn’t affect how you treat other people.

7. They Use Positive Body Language

Becoming cognizant of your gestures, expressions, and tone of voice (and making certain they’re positive) will draw people to you like ants to a picnic. Using an enthusiastic tone, uncrossing your arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning towards the person who’s speaking are all forms of positive body language that high-EQ people use to draw others in. Positive body language can make all the difference in a conversation.

It’s true that how you say something can be more important than what you say.

8. They Leave a Strong First Impression

Research shows most people decide whether or not they like you within the first seven seconds of meeting you. They then spend the rest of the conversation internally justifying their initial reaction. This may sound terrifying, but by knowing this you can take advantage of it to make huge gains in your likeability. First impressions are tied intimately to positive body language. Strong posture, a firm handshake, smiling, and opening your shoulders to the person you are talking to will help ensure that your first impression is a good one.

9. They Greet People by Name

Your name is an essential part of your identity, and it feels terrific when people use it. Likeable people make certain they use others’ names every time they see them. You shouldn’t use someone’s name only when you greet him. Research shows that people feel validated when the person they’re speaking with refers to them by name during a conversation.

If you’re great with faces but have trouble with names, have some fun with it and make remembering people’s names a brain exercise. When you meet someone, don’t be afraid to ask her name a second time if you forget it right after you hear it. You’ll need to keep her name handy if you’re going to remember it the next time you see her.

10. They Smile

People naturally (and unconsciously) mirror the body language of the person they’re talking to. If you want people to like you, smile at them during a conversation and they will unconsciously return the favor and feel good as a result.

11. They Know When To Open Up

Be careful to avoid sharing personal problems and confessions too quickly, as this will get you labeled a complainer. Likeable people let the other person guide when it’s the right time for them to open up.

12. They Know Who To Touch (and They Touch Them)

When you touch someone during a conversation, you release oxytocin in their brain, a neurotransmitter that makes their brain associate you with trust and a slew of other positive feelings. A simple touch on the shoulder, a hug, or a friendly handshake is all it takes to release oxytocin. Of course, you have to touch the right person in the right way to release oxytocin, as unwanted or inappropriate touching has the opposite effect. Just remember, relationships are built not just from words, but also from general feelings about each other. Touching someone appropriately is a great way to show you care.

13. They Balance Passion and Fun

People gravitate toward those who are passionate. That said, it’s easy for passionate people to come across as too serious or uninterested because they tend to get absorbed in their work. Likeable people balance their passion with the ability to have fun. At work they are serious, yet friendly. They still get things done because they are socially effective in short amounts of time and they capitalize on valuable social moments. They minimize small talk and gossip and instead focus on having meaningful interactions with their coworkers. They remember what you said to them yesterday or last week, which shows that you’re just as important to them as their work.

Bringing It All Together

Likeable people are invaluable and unique. They network with ease, promote harmony in the workplace, bring out the best in everyone around them, and generally seem to have the most fun. Add these skills to your repertoire and watch your likeability soar!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

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