Tag Archives | self-development

Maximize Your Happiness This Summer

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

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.

by Dennis Ottink via Unsplash.com

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 embrace the changes brought by the summer season, remember that the road to success 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?

This post has been adapted from my 2015 blog post.

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The One Thing You Must Do To Present the Best Version of You

Last spring, I was having a “30,000 foot” conversation with a friend, sharing some of our mutual leadership and relational challenges. During the exchange, he shared a statement that resonated so strongly with me that it became a personal theme, a constant reminder that underscores an ongoing obstacle in my life:

I will be where I am… wherever I am.

This simple sentence is a definition of presence, which is the ability to give people the gift of your attention, the willingness to fully engage in every encounter–at every meal, every meeting, every conversation, every day.

The older I get, the more I realize how difficult this can be for me. I suffer from a distracted and overactive mind.

In an effort to improve, as I’ve unpacked this whole issue of presence, I’ve come to realize that being present starts with listening. I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but in an increasingly distracted culture, listening is one of the most difficult skills to consistently practice. And yet, if you are serious about building a strong personal brand by consistently presenting the best version of yourself, learning to listen–really listen–is non-negotiable.

Presence: Listening and hearing are not the same.

Listening and hearing are not the same.

How many times have you been introduced to someone, and, within minutes, or even seconds, you forget their name? (Don’t tell me I’m the only one guilty of this!) How can that happen? After all, you clearly heard the name, right? The problem was that you may have heard it, but you weren’t listening. Chances are, your focus was on yourself and the impression you were making. Or your mind was absorbed in the meeting you were preparing for, the weekend plans you were looking forward to, or something else that occupied your thoughts at that moment.

Instances like this cause people to say things like, “I’m bad with names” when the truth is, you’re simply unskilled at the discipline of listening.

Whether this example resonates with you or not, the key is to understand that listening involves more than just hearing words directed at us. Listening is an active process by which we receive, assess, and respond to what we hear–and the benefits are huge. As Mary Schaller explains in The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations:

People are often ready to listen to us only after they feel understood and heard. In a society full of folks who would rather talk than listen, people are starved for someone who is willing to move into their lives as a listener and learner. Being known as a good listener will cause you to stand out in our self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of world.

The stakes are high.

In an earlier post, I shared that today more than ever we tend to live in echo chambers where everything we pay attention to only reinforces what we already believe. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans today are more polarized than perhaps any other period in our history. As a result, we are increasingly less likely to listen and learn from one another–at great potential cost to the health of our society.

In my upcoming posts, I will explore some proven skills to improve our listening, develop our sense of presence, and expand our capacity to present the best version of ourselves.

Are you listening?

How would you evaluate yourself as a listener? Are you, for example, comfortable with remembering names and noticing things? Does your mind tend to wander during conversations? Do you find it hard to concentrate in the midst of smartphones, social networking and other distractions? What would it mean to you and to the quality of your life if you could expand your sense of presence?

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Finding Flow

For this week’s blog, I’d like to share a recent post from writer, athlete and pastor, Tom Basson, that looks at finding “flow” – also known as “the zone” – and how you don’t have to be an athlete to have this “ultimate experience.”

Finding Flow via Tom Basson

What is flow?

Imagine for a moment that you are running a race. Your attention is focused on the movements of your body, the power of your muscles, the force of your lungs and the feel of the street beneath your feet. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice.
What you are experiencing is “flow” – also known as “the zone.”

Named by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high), flow is a state of “being completely immersed in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. For me personally, finding flow happens most easily in three activities: Surfing, preaching, and gymnastics. In all three instances I feel completely alert and in tune with my surroundings. There is a sense in which “time stands still and everything else fades away except the task at hand”.

But it’s not just sports. Others might find flow while painting, drawing, or writing. Even everyday life provides opportunities for flow. If you’ve ever lost an afternoon to a great conversation or gotten so involved in a work project that all else is forgotten, then you’ve tasted “the zone.”

The Benefits of Flow

The flow state has been described as “the ultimate experience”. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energised, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture – producing high levels of gratification, and even lasting contentment after the fact.

Did you get that? Finding flow for just 15 minutes in the day, can make you happier for the rest of it.

In addition to making you happier, researchers have also found that flow can dramatically improve performance and learning across a wide variety of areas.
Nowhere is this more obvious then in the emerging world of action and adventure sports. As Steven Kotler – author of “The Rise of Superman” – writes, “Over the past three decades [these athletes] have pushed human performance farther and faster than at any other point in the 150,000 year history of our species.”

For these guys, finding flow is a matter of life or death.

Whether that’s scaling a sheer cliff-face without ropes, riding monstrous waves, or clearing giant gaps on a skateboard – these “impossible” athletic feats are now actually helping scientists to decipher the mysteries of flow, so that we can apply this knowledge across all domains of society.

Where is your flow?

So the challenge to you today is to figure out where you find flow? Where do you find yourself becoming utterly absorbed, where action and awareness merge and all else fades away?

Finding flow is crucial, whether we are parenting, planning, pioneering or parachuting. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how to be their best when it matters most? To be more creative, more contented, more present? To soar and not to sink?

As the deeds of those extreme athletes prove, if we can master flow, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

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Change Your Smile… Change Your Life

Recently, I came across a 2011 Ted Talk by Ron Gutman called The Hidden Impact of Smiling, he shares some fascinating research on this most basic human expression. Consider these findings:

  • A 30-year University of California study found that, by measuring the length of students’ smiles in a 1950’s high school yearbook, they could predict the duration of their marriages as well as how well they would score in standardized tests of happiness and self fulfillment.
  • A 2010 Wayne State University study of pre-1950’s Major League Baseball cards found that players who smiled in their photo lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile.
  • According to British researchers, smiling produces the same neurological stimulation as receiving up to $16 lbs sterling in cash. (approximately $25,000).
  • The simple act of smiling has been found to measurably reduce the amount of stress-producing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline while increasing brain-enhancing endorphins.

Last spring, in an article titled Smiling for Dollars in Dealer Magazine, automotive marketing expert Jim Boldebook described a study conducted by a psychology professor at a university in upstate New York involving three Albany, NY auto dealerships. The study focused exclusively on exploring what the professor termed the “smile factor” of sales consultants in influencing transactions. The results revealed that the sales consultants who smiled the most had a 20% higher conversion rate and 10% higher average gross profit per transaction than those who smiled the least.

While it’s self evident that smiling is associated with happiness and a greater sense of well being, this research goes much further; namely, that smiling more means living longer, having stronger relationships — even earning more income.

So how’s your “smile IQ?”

via MOMcircle

For example, of the sixteen-plus hours you spend awake every day, how much of that time do you spend smiling? When you approach a stranger walking down the street, do you wait for them to smile first before smiling back, or do you initiate the exchange of smiles? Does it matter?

If you believe even half of Gutman’s findings, it not only matters, it has life-changing potential.

Based on these surprising facts, what would it mean to the quality of your life if you smiled more frequently? Here’s a challenge: Change your smile… Change your life. Take ten minutes every day during the next week to intentionally focus on smiling, wherever you are — even if you’re alone (researchers have found that smiling enhances your mood). Then let me know how it goes!

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