Tag Archives | traverse city blogger

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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Everything You Do Matters

I was first introduced to the Butterfly Effect by author and blogger Andy Andrews.


A doctrinal thesis published in 1963 by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, in short the Butterfly Effect states that a butterfly can flap its wings on one side of the world and set in motion molecules of air that in turn set in motion other molecules of air and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Ridiculed by the scientific community for more than thirty years, the Butterfly Effect nevertheless persisted in myths and urban legends until physics professors in the mid-1990’s proved it, not only with butterflies and air molecules but with every form of matter…including people. Eventually, the Butterfly Effect became a scientific law called the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions. When applied to people, it essentially means that all of your actions can shape far-reaching outcomes spanning generations. It means that everything you do matters.

I was reminded of how this law applies to personal branding during a talk I gave as a guest at a local B.N.I. (Business Network International) meeting several years ago. The story begins in Traverse City, Michigan during the summer of 1982 between my junior and senior year of college. My girlfriend–who is now my wife–had just flown in for my sister’s wedding and my parents invited us to join them, my sister and two of my brothers for dinner downtown. Five months earlier, my dad had purchased a Buick dealership in town, taking a small, under-performing franchise and turning it into the top selling dealership in northern Michigan. It was the height of summer in this beautiful, scenic Lake Michigan resort town and our entire family was coming together for a much-anticipated wedding celebration.

After a wonderful dinner we hopped in our cars to head home. While backing out of the parking space, one of us–I cannot recall who–inadvertently sideswiped another car in the cramped parking lot, leaving a 6-inch crease in the rear fender of the parked car.  By this time it was nearly dark and there was on one else in the lot. We could easily have pretended nothing happened, hopped back into our cars, and driven away.

Instead, noticing what had happened, my dad jumped out of his new Buick, surveyed the damage to the other car, pulled a business card out of his wallet, wrote a short message on the back along with his home phone number, and left it on the windshield.

Having witnessed my father’s leadership and personal responsibility my entire life, I was not surprised by his response and never thought about the incident again–until the morning of my B.N.I. presentation nearly 30 years later. Following my brief speech (I can’t recall the topic), each B.N.I. member delivered their customary introduction along with a few comments on my talk. After the first few members spoke, a woman introduced herself and, after some kinds words about my message, proudly mentioned that she and her family had purchased every car they owned from us since the early 1980’s.  Then she explained why.

“I had recently moved to Traverse City back in the early 1980’s and had spent the evening shopping downtown with some friends when I returned to my car and immediately noticed a pretty big dent in the rear fender,” she said, adding that this was the first brand new car she had ever owned and really wanted to keep it looking great. “Frustrated and angry, I walked to the front of the car and noticed a business card stuck in my windshield with your father’s name, phone number, and explanation of what happened. I called him the next day and he was so gracious and apologetic. He not only arranged to fix the dent but he gave me a car to drive while it was in your body shop. To me, the integrity that your father displayed was huge, something I have never forgotten, and as a result, my entire family has done all of our business with your company ever since.”

I was shocked. That was the first time I was reminded of that incident since it happened–it seemed like a lifetime ago.

What does this have to do with the Butterfly Effect?  Everything. What was to my dad a simple act of doing the right thing–his response would have been the same whether anyone had seen it or not–was, to this woman, a rare display of integrity that resulted in lifelong loyalty. And for a big ticket purchase like an automobile, that’s a lot of revenue.

The lesson? The quality of your life–the strength of your personal brand while you’re alive and the legacy you leave after you’re gone–is driven not so much by the major events and big decisions you encounter at key times in your life, but by the seemingly small, everyday decisions you make, both good and bad.  If the flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can affect meteorological events thousands of miles away, imagine the impact of your everyday decisions.

My questions for you: How can you apply the Butterfly Effect to improving your personal brand? What seemingly small decisions have you or those close to you made that have had significant long term consequences? How can a deeper awareness and understanding of this principle impact your life?

This post has been adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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What Peyton Manning Taught Me about Leadership

Although I’ve never been a big Denver Broncos or Indianapolis Colts fan, I’ve always admired Peyton Manning. His tremendous ability, legendary work ethic, competitive fire, and impressive family legacy (I am old enough to remember watching Peyton’s father, Archie Manning, during his heroic career with the New Orleans Saints in the early 70’s) make him hard not to like.

Two and half years ago, an excellent article in Sports Illustrated magazine honored him as the 2013 Sportsman of the Year, which, after reading, sealed the deal for me as one of my all-time favorite sports figures.

According to the SI story, since 1997, Manning’s senior year at the University of Tennessee, countless numbers of families throughout the Volunteer state have named their sons after him.

And as the article unfolds, it’s easy to see why. Although he grew up in a family that was practically worshiped as royalty, a byproduct of Archie’s college career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history, his parents modeled simplicity, personal responsibility, and the value of hard work. And despite Peyton’s amazing talent and prodigious college and professional career, the article highlights how Manning treated everyone, from the head coach to the equipment managers, with the same respect and genuine concern.

The Power of a Personal Note

via stocksnap.io

What I learned the most from this in-depth look at Manning’s life and career, however, was one simple habit he employed that has helped me grow as a leader. As the article explains:

“A son of the genteel South, Manning learned early on the power of the handwritten note… He still remembers the college coaches who wrote him during his recruitment as opposed to the ones who resorted to thoughtless form letters. He would lick his thumb and rub it against the signatures to determine whether they were real. And when Manning left for college, Archie would write him before every fall semester.”

Peyton’s penchant for handwritten notes stuck with him into adulthood, when he entered a promising professional career that would elevate him to national stardom. As anyone who practices penmanship can attest, writing notes takes time and patience. No one would blame him for giving up this bygone practice in exchange for texting or tweeting. But the personal discipline and attention to detail that defined him as a player bled through to how he related to people:

“Throughout his career, Manning has written to coaches and players who retire, as well as widows of coaches and players who pass away. He writes subjects of documentaries he has seen and victims of tragedies he’s heard about. He writes his children every six months, even though they are years away from deciphering his cursive. (His wife) Ashley buys his stationery, cream-colored cards with PEYTON W. MANNING in block letters at the top. It’s hard to find any coach, teammate or staffer who hasn’t received a note from Manning. ‘I got one when my dad passed,’ says (former teammate) Brandon Stokely, ‘and another when Peyton stayed at my house.’ ‘I got one when I retired,’ says former Colts video director Marty Heckshcher. ‘It almost brought me to tears.’ ‘I got one when the Colts let me go,’ says Jon Torine, the former strength coach. ‘It meant more than any paycheck.’

In addition to writing teammates and coaches, Manning asked staffers to go through the hundreds of pieces of mail he received each week as a player, selecting the heart-felt letters and personally responding to many of them:

“To Jack Benson, an eight-year-old in California with cancer: ‘I just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. You have a lot of people pulling for you. Keep fighting, stay positive, and say your prayers.’ To Chris Harris, widow of a youth pastor in Arkansas who was killed in a car accident, ‘I am sorry for your loss. Please know that I am praying for you. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ (Matthew 5:4) I learned that Pastor Harris was an avid Colts fan and had an autographed picture of me in his office. I read an article about Pastor Harris, and I can tell you he was very special. I am proud that he was a fan of mine. May God’s peace be with you.’

Think of the time it took him to write such thoughtful replies. How many high level celebrities can you name who would commit to such deep and personalized correspondence with their fans?

Inspired by the article, the next day I visited my local print shop and ordered my own monogrammed stationery. And since I’ve trained, spoken and posted on the power of consistent habits verses going for big performance leaps, I put my training to work, committing to writing one personal note every work day. (I mailed them on on my way home.) While I mostly send them to employees on their birthdays or work anniversaries, I also send them to friends, colleagues, community volunteers, and anyone I come across who I think would benefit from an encouraging note. I’ve been doing this for the past several years and although I can’t say that I never miss a day (I do, especially when I get busy or travel), I can report that committing to this simple discipline has made a difference in me as a leader. I have had employees stop by my office to share their surprise and gratitude for my note. Several have mentioned that they shared it with their entire family–and others tell me they have it posted on their refrigerator door for months… even years.

The experience tells me this: In an age of digital superficiality, people everywhere are starved for genuine connection. Taking the time to write a thoughtful note can go a long way in making an impact.

Just ask Peyton Manning.

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Four Keys to Making Better Decisions — Part 2

In my last post, I shared the fascinating insights of authors Chip and Dan Heath in their recent book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Beginning with the surprising revelation of our society’s dismal record of decision making, the authors unveil four primary obstacles that tend to keep us from making consistently wise choices. They are:

via kaboompics | pexels.com

1) Narrow Framing – We often consider only one or two alternatives among many.
2) Confirmation Bias – We allow our own “echo chambers” to blind us to only those options that serve our interests.
3) Short Term Emotion – Our feelings can easily impair our perspective, leading to regret later on.
4) Overconfidence – Like Harry Warner’s (of Warner Bros Studios) famous statement at the prospect of talking films, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”, we sometimes fail to consider the possibility of being wrong.

For each of these decision-making fallacies, there’s a corresponding antidote.

Antidote #1: Widen Your Options

Rev. Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the tendency of parishioners who seek his advice to present extremely narrow decision dilemmas: Is this the person God wants me to marry? Should I take the job I’ve been offered in another part of the country? Should I become a priest? Often, they are surprised at Fr. Bransfield’s response as he challenges them to think more broadly:

“There’s a myth that there’s only one thing that God wants you to do… Actually, there are 18 things that God would be very happy if you chose. You’re not cornered into becoming a priest or not. You’re not cornered into marrying this woman or not. There are 6 billion people in the world. You’re telling me that God looked at you and said, ‘There is only one thing you can do in your life — I know it and you have to guess it or else?’ Could it be that you are putting your own constraints on God?”

Fr. Bransfield’s advice challenges the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, by broadening your perspective to consider more options.

I recall some close friends of mine struggling to decide whether to buy a boat or not. With school aged children, they were looking to spend fun, memory-making weekends as a family, but found themselves paralyzed by narrow framing, unable to move forward with the decision or not. This is a classic example of the constraining nature of “whether or not” decisions, as if boating is the only option for memory-making family fun. Instead of asking, “Should we buy a boat or not?” trying asking, “What else could we do with the same time and money?” A camper or motor home? Perhaps a time share at a resort? A back yard sports court or swimming pool?

Often, being trapped in a narrow frame can be hard to recognize, but one of the best warning signs is paying attention to “whether or not” decisions.

Can you recall any decisions in your past in which you got stuck in a narrow frame? How did it work out for you? What might have you done differently if you had widened your options?

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