203. It takes strength.

They tell us that $#!+ happens.

And that it will happen to all of us at some point.

No one is spared, no one escapes scot-free.

Which means we need to be prepared and ready to face it head on, move past it and continue with our lives.

The Habit of Staying Strong has been the focal point of our attention for the past two weeks and it is this very habit, more than any other, that will see us through those times when life throws its proverbial curve our way.

So, what does it mean to stay strong?

Staying Strong means taking the time to master the one skill that, more than any other, plays a leading role in determining the quality of our lives in both good times and bad.

We have spent much time over the years discussing the following; how perspective impacts our everyday lives; how we alone choose the meaning of everything that happens to, and around us; and how the meaning we choose determines how we are emotionally impacted and affected by everything in our world.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to my new friend Janet who I have never met but with whom I have had several fascinating conversations. Janet was, by her own description, a 36-year-old drug addicted alcoholic who, between stints of living on the street, worked odd jobs only long enough to obtain a temporary roof over her head while indulging in the pseudo-pleasures provided by drugs and alcohol.

Eight years ago, on a bitterly cold winter night in her hometown of Austin, Texas, Janet cradled her best friend Tony in her arms and held him tightly as he died of an overdose.

Grief stricken, the trauma of that event brought her to the cold realization that there had to be a better way. With no money or resources, she resolved to “clean up my act,” get clean and sober and build a life free of chemical dependency that would provide a permanent place to call home.

And she did it. It was not easy. There were many times when her body begged for relief from the aching agony of well entrenched cravings but Janet was determined that this was one resolution she was going to keep

Without knowing its name, she grabbed onto The Habit of Staying Strong and clung to it for dear life.

And then one day – one great day – she awoke without the usual fog and, as the day progressed it dawned on her that she was feeling no cravings, no anxiety and no need to fight that evil presence she been battling since the morning after Tony’s death.

She taught herself how to stay strong and by using every available tool from local social agencies, found the first job she’d had in many years.

The work was menial but Janet approached it with the sense of pride usually reserved for those who truly have achieved greatness.

Over time her employer noticed her remarkable attitude, dedication and commitment to excellence and thus began a series of promotions which have brought her to her present position as a senior manager overseeing a high-performing marketing team.

Today she lives in a house that she owns. She pays the mortgage and all her other bills on time and has recently begun a live-in relationship with a man she met while making a sales call several years ago.

Janet has been reading my blog for several years, but it was only two weeks ago, after reading the first piece on The Habit of Staying Strong, she felt compelled to connect and share with me how this habit helped get her sober and build the life she so loves today.

While she did ask me not to print her last name, she gave me permission to include a statement she made during one of our calls.

I was struck by the power of her quote, “You will never know your own strength until you allow your fears and doubts to guide you to it.”

Amen.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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202. A great question for tough times.

 

Last week’s introduction of The Habit of Staying Strong led to several calls from readers calling to discuss their difficulties in staying strong during these difficult economic times

I heard from several people who have spent a year or more seeking employment of any type to replace the jobs from which they were laid off. They shared the challenges of staying strong when their daily efforts rarely even resulted in a rejection response from a potential employer.

One person shared with me their growing feelings of helplessness and despair as they helplessly watched years of savings dwindle away, leaving them wondering what they will do if that savings account reaches zero before they find a new job.

I know firsthand how tremendously stressful these situations are, and in talking with these callers, I could feel the strain they are under coming through the phone.

Soothing words of comfort can do little to ease the relentless tension people find themselves under when faced with the daily challenges these folks know only too well. I could only offer my own sense that in tough times like these, The Habit of Staying Strong, as difficult as it may seem to adopt, is necessary for anyone who needs to remain as resourceful and confident as possible.

I shared with each caller a great line from the movie, Bridge of Spies. This 2015 film is about a lawyer (Tom Hanks) tasked with negotiating the exchange of a Soviet spy for an American pilot captured during the Cold War.  The Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) was arrested at his apartment and confined to a small cell for a lengthy period of time while enduring great discomfort.

Several times throughout the movie it was pointed out to him that he never complained. He accepted his fate as it was meted out without protest.

And each time he was asked why he never complained or resisted the deplorable conditions in which he was placed, he always responded with the same question.

Would that help?

That question has stayed with me and I believe it really summarizes the quintessential power of choice we have when dealing with adversity.

This man’s ability to remain stoic for a long period of time by reminding himself that allowing himself to succumb to the temptation of negative emotion would do absolutely nothing to enhance his experience.

In sharing this story over the past week, my intention was never to discount the pain they are in and the circumstances they are dealing with but rather, to serve as a gentle reminder that when we allow The Habit of Staying Strong to work its magic, we greatly increase our resourcefulness to overcome the challenges we face and to fight even harder to bring about a turnaround.

I know how easy it is to succumb to the forces of anxiety, despair, fear, and desperation, but I’ve also learned that none of these serve us well. These emotions drain us of energy while feeding our feelings of despair and helplessness.

When times are tough, resourcefulness is our strongest ally.  The Habit of Staying Strong, despite the nearly impossible odds of embracing it, will, more than anything else, help keep you grounded and focused on a solution rather than on the problem.

What I reminded my callers and, in so doing also reminded myself, was that whenever the urge to curl up into a ball and feel down and out enters our consciousness, to, in that very moment, remember to ask ourselves that great question.

Would that help?

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

201. Strength comes from within.

Earlier this week I met with the CEO of a local, high profile company, a leader in its industry and a shining example of business success.

I heard first-hand what it takes to survive and prosper in this, the deepest and longest lasting recession in Alberta’s history.

He shared with me how he has had to make difficult and painful decisions to keep his business on a survival path and how he has taught himself the necessity of saying no when his previous inclination would have been a willing yes.

He explained he has learned a great deal about his own resilience, strength and determination while witnessing his company’s revenue slide to where it is barely at 30% of what he had come to view as normal.

Then he told me what he has come to believe to be the most powerful lesson of all. These challenges have taught him the future success of his company and the long term security he wishes to provide for his staff rest solely on his ability to manage the thoughts in his head.

He has learned that, notwithstanding the ongoing barrage of negative information regarding the economy, the state of the market and the grim view of the future, his ability to stay strong and focus on what he can do, rather than on what is being done to him by circumstances beyond his control, has played, and will continue to play a greater role in ensuring the future prosperity of his company than all the cost cutting measures and survival strategies combined.

By fighting daily to make The Habit of Staying Strong a driving force in his life he has managed to pierce the walls of negativity and despair that have enveloped many of his colleagues.

He has come to understand that the only opinion of him that matters is his and that the loss of financial status or material objects should play no role in how we view ourselves.

He has programmed his phone to buzz every hour and takes a few moments each time to check the thoughts going through his head and the feelings in his body and to do whatever is necessary to change them and chase away any hint of fear, concern or anxiety that tough times often bring out in all of us.

And every chance he gets, he sells the message of The Habit of Staying Strong to anyone who will listen.

This experience has taught him that it really doesn’t matter which cards we are dealt. What does matter however is how we play each hand. What he has learned is how big a role our emotions play in determining how each hand will unfold.

The Habit of Staying Strong it is not a recommendation. It is a requirement. Without it we run the risk of changing the lens through which we see ourselves and when we change that lens, everything changes.

To him, this is not an exercise in mental toughness but rather a way of life necessary if our long-term dreams, goals and aspirations are not to be thwarted by short-term barriers and setbacks.

I had to agree with every word he said for I believe with every fibre of my being that The Habit of Staying Strong is the differentiator between those who fall and those remained standing.

Please let me know what you think.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

200. I finally got it.

It has been two weeks since I introduced The Habit of Planning Ahead into my own life and, while it is far too early to claim long-term success, I can unequivocally state that following this habit has provided me with a sense of being organized, in control and well prepared that I have not felt in a very long time.

I have had some help in learning to appreciate the benefits this habit provides to its followers.

My wife Gimalle has always being a consummate practitioner of planning ahead. If I am scheduled to deliver a workshop four months from now, my tendency has always been to begin planning my presentation around 11 PM the evening before and then stay up until all hours of the morning frantically preparing.

Gimalle, by contrast, with four months’ advance notice of a presentation, will have every facet of her delivery written, scripted, laid out and rehearsed with 3 ½ months to spare, allowing her ample time and opportunity to rehearse and perfect her seminar.

I have long marveled at her commitment to planning in everything she does and have been envious of the discipline required to do so.

I pointed this out to her two weeks ago after posting the first blog on The Habit of Planning Ahead. I mentioned my envy at her focussed discipline and she immediately pointed out the flaw in my thinking.

She explained that a well entrenched good habit does not require discipline but instead, provides as a reward, a powerful sense of accomplishment and the invigorating feeling of being the controller, and not, the controlled.

On the other hand, she pointed out that I was the one with extreme discipline as it takes real commitment, effort and discipline to subject oneself time and time again to the stress, anxiety and panic of leaving everything to the last minute.

She pointed out that the discipline required to repeatedly subject myself to this painful regimen does not come easily but, instead requires dedicated willingness to bring unnecessary discomfort into my life and, despite knowing clearly the cause – and also knowing how a little time spent in preparation could go a long way to help avoiding these stresses – I still regularly subject myself to the consequences that my lack of planning bring.

She explained to me that she has long wondered about my willingness to repeatedly bring chaos into my life and that seeing me do so has served to inspire her to continue her long-held practice of dedication to The Habit of Planning Ahead.

I wish I had a powerful counterargument to present back to her, but sadly I don’t. These past two weeks of faithfully using The Habit of Planning Ahead have taught me that Gimalle’s practice of always planning ahead is far superior to my long-held method of last minute cramming and scrambling.

In a moment of weakness, I admitted to Gimalle that her way is superior to mine and she immediately interpreted my comment to mean acknowledgement of this on my part to be an admission that whenever we are in disagreement, she is always right.

It may have taken me 20 years of observing Gimalle’s behaviour to acknowledge that The Habit of Planning Ahead is far superior to my scattered methodology but surely there must have been at least one occasion during those 20 years when I was right and she was wrong.

Surely?

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

199. I’m in charge now.

Today marks a first.

This is, I believe, the first time I am posting a blog that was written a week prior.

And it feels good.

Last week I introduced The Habit of Planning Ahead after poor planning and circumstances left me determined to do a better job of being prepared.

As mentioned, it has long been my intention to build an inventory of blogs that I could draw upon in a pinch and, despite being aware of the benefit this would afford me I have, with perfection of execution, kept delaying this practice by convincing myself that I would get around to it really soon.

I am finding this blog extremely easy to write because I am unencumbered by time and urgency and if, in fact, I do not complete it today, I still have the better part of a full week in which to get it done.

Interestingly, as I’m writing this, ideas for future blogs and future habits are flooding through my head resulting in a list being compiled that will help with a quick-start on the blog inventory I have long wished for.

I know it is far too early to claim victory and proclaim that I have secured The Habit of Planning Ahead into my everyday life, but I’m already beginning to see immense benefit in doing so.

I anticipate getting used to the feeling of being truly organized. It is one that I have never experienced before and, in fact, may not immediately recognize it. The idea of carrying The Habit of Planning Ahead into all areas of my life is one I am finding to be truly stimulating and I’m looking forward to doing so because my ability to optimize my time effectiveness skills can only  increase he more this habit becomes installed within me.

My long-suffering wife, Gimalle, will gladly attest to the fact that my procrastination skills have soundly defeated her training abilities to the point that she long ago wrote me off as a hopeless case.

When I shared with her my newfound commitment to The Habit of Planning Ahead her relief was palpable and, once she had picked herself up from the floor, offered her unqualified support in helping me make this a part of my life.

We have often talked of the difficulties and challenges in changing habits and we have agreed that old habits do not die hard simply because they never die. We know the only way to remove an unwanted habit from its insidious connection to us is to replace it with a new one.

The old one will not disappear, it will simply slink off and hide in the deepest, darkest recesses of our minds waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce back and retake its rightful place in our lives.

I am determined not to allow that experience to happen to me.

The cynic in me is whispering that it is far too early on this journey to have any sense of permanence and I know the temptation to put off writing this Saturday’s blog until Saturday morning will soon make an appearance.

I have a plan to fool it.

Just as soon as I’m finished writing this blog, I will make a start on the one for Saturday.

I may not finish it all today but I most certainly will do so a full 48 hours before it is posted.

And I will feel really good for having done so.

I am finally going to show this procrastination habit who is boss around here. And it’s not going to like it.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.