The art of Excellence (3): Risk, success and happiness

Little by little one walks farThere is a beautiful story about 2 sales people of a shoe company sent to a deserted African country to examine business potential. The whiner calls his boss and says, “People here walk barefoot. They do not wear shoes at all. Our sales potential is zero”. The winner calls his boss and says, “People here walk barefoot. They do not wear shoes at all. We have no competition. The whole market is ours for the taking”.

Every success involves risk. It may sound funny, but the greater the risk, the greater the achievement. Poor people consider risk takers foolish, but those who excel will tell you that no achievement is ever accomplished by staying in your comfort zone.

The “comfort zone” is a very dangerous place, because it repels creativity and success. The comfort zone is the place where you welcome your fears with open arms and keep them company. There is nothing wrong with relaxing from time to time and resting before climbing the next mountain, but when we get too comfortable, out choices are eventually limited to getting up or drowning.

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The art of Excellence (2): Fighting poverty

Life is like a play. It is not the length but the excellence of the acting that matters
– Seneca

When one door closes, another door opensYou see, luck has nothing to do with success and all the successful people will tell you that most of their success did not fall from the sky but there was some opportunity they were able to recognize. Developing the attitude to recognize opportunities is mistaken for some mystical luck similar to winning the lottery.

When my son was preparing for a competition, I told him the lottery story. This story is a ticket out of poverty. Take every opportunity to use it.

Every Friday, the archangel Gabriel went down to the Wailing Wall to pick up the notes of requests people stuck on the wall during the week. Every week, he read all the notes and organized them before presenting them to God.

One day, Gabriel want to God and said, “Dear God, there is this old man who comes here every week, rain or shine, for 25 years. Every week, he begs you to let him win the lottery. He is a good, religious man and never asks for anything else. Please God, I have read his requests every week for 25 years and it breaks my heart. Can you please grant the poor man his wish?”

God said, “I would do it gladly, if only he bought a ticket”.

Winning the lottery requires luck, but it will never happen if you do not get into the game. If you complain about not succeeding, if you are jealous of other people’s success, if you have a huge list but do nothing to achieve it, God is waiting for you to buy a ticket.

Successful people do not just wish. They buy tickets.

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The Good Life

Julie & JuliaThe difficulty kids have with goal setting is their short life experience. Without knowing enough about cause and effect, kids focus on having fun right now. Spending any amount of effort on a reward they may or may not get in the future is just not something they do.

In the famous 1972 “Stanford marshmallow experiment”, psychologist Walter Mischel put kids in an empty room and put a treat next to them. He told them they could eat their treat, but if they waited 15 minutes, he would give them another. Of 600 children, a third waited long enough for their reward, some snatched the treat and ate it as soon as he left the room and most of the kids did their best to avoid eating the treat by distracting themselves (moving, playing with their hair, etc).

Mischel’s original conclusion was that older kids can wait longer and deferred gratification is related to age. However, years later, he followed up with some of the children in his experiment and discovered that those who waited longer were also more successful in life.

In 1988, Mischel found that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”. In 1990, he found a correlation between the ability to delay gratification and higher Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.

This is where we (parents) come in. If we teach our kids to set goals and achieve them, their life will be so much better. So how do we do it?

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The art of Excellence (1): Success with high standards

He is able show thinks he is ableIn the eyes of the average person, there is something snobby in striving for excellence. For some people, possibly for most, excellence is pure luck, almost a luxurious state of living that you are either born with or not. It is no coincidence that those who think this way do not excel at many things in life.

There is a paradox in the search for excellence, because it is the result of an attitude, a habit you need to have in the first place in order to achieve it. There is something frustrating in understating what T. Alan Armstrong said, “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship act”. It is frustrating, because it makes you think that excelling is hard work.

Excellence goes together with extraordinary success that is higher than all standards. It is frustrating because you cannot reach excellence without succeeding big time.

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Beautiful Kids vs. Brutal Honesty

Smart little kidLast week, I ran 3 parenting workshops and there was one topic that came up over and over again – the truth about your kids. While I was describing research, education methods, philosophy and personal development techniques to raise happy and successful kids, some people were very concerned about telling kids the truth.

I find the concept of “the truth” very problematic and the seed of many difficulties in life. Every small problem in life just makes this seed grow poisonous roots of inadequacy, self-doubt and fear.

At the workshop, I talked about the importance of raising kids to think they are capable, talented, smart, friendly, flexible, courageous, wise, trustworthy, etc (the list can be adapted to each parent’s needs) so they will have good beliefs about themselves, their skills and their abilities. I always say that overcoming kids’ learning difficulties is easier than overcoming their belief that something is wrong with them and that therefore, it is parents’ job to make sure their kids have positive, empowered beliefs about themselves.

The parents and I examined beliefs that are very good for kids to have. Let me ask you, if your son thinks he is smart, is that good for him or not? If your daughter thinks she is friendly, is it good for her or not? If your kids think they are good siblings, is it good for them or not?

Is it good for the parents too?

Well, apparently, for some people it is not good. To them, the truth is more important.

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Who Knows?

Little dog, big dogMotivation can be external or internal. That is, a person can be prompted, encouraged or coerced to do something by somebody else, or they can do it for their own reasons.

Kids, being so young and dependent, begin their life by mimicking their parents and other carers and by following their instructions. “Those big, loving, all-knowing creatures that take care of me must be right, so it’s best to be guided by them”, they reason.

This quickly develops into obedience, even when following the instructions might cause discomfort to the child. “It’s a small price to pay for the big person’s love and besides, maybe the big person is right and this is good for me?”

I find with my kids that their principals, teachers, coaches and other instructors tend to encourage conformity and submission to authority and I have to deal with it sometimes and help them strengthen their internal motivation. You will recognize this has happened to your children when they start talking about getting away with things, instead of whether or not those things should be done in the first place.

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Raising Grownups

Funny babyParents often see themselves as “raising children”.

Not true.

Parents are actually raising future grownups and this is an important distinction, because grownups are independent, hopefully self-sufficient humans, whereas children are rather dependent and undeveloped beings who need continuous care and attention.

So in essence, no matter what we do today, we should do it with the final creation in mind – our future son or daughter when they are ready to say goodbye and beyond.

Will they be healthy and able to care for themselves so they can stay healthy?

Will they have the knowledge they need to not only survive in the world but also succeed?

Will they have the strength of character to do well and be happy?

But daily life is quite different for most parents. In most homes, parents are busy people and when they interact with their kids, it is often to do with housekeeping, cleaning up their messy rooms, getting off the computer or getting ready to go somewhere in a hurry. Most of the communication between parents and their children is aimed at right now (“Come here”, “Stop making noise”, “Clean your room” or “Let’s go”) and sometimes at the recent past (“Why did you…”, “If only you had…” or “You should have…”).

Read more about how to raise your children to be great grownups…

Acceptance (3)

Serenity prayer This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1). For a description of Mel’s views on life that made her miserable, read Wednesday’s post, Acceptance (2).

Today, I would like to introduce a solution, a cure, a way out of this endless search for the right and only-sensible thing to do, to think or to be. If you are like Mel in some way, I hope this will help you find peace, just as she did. If you know others like Mel, I hope you will share this series of posts with them so they may find their own peace.

The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance
– Nathaniel Branden

Every time Mel left, I wrote my reflections on the session, as I always do after a session. In the Strategies section, I wrote, “Teach acceptance”. For me, acceptance was a peaceful place, where I acknowledge things around me without resistance (every time I think of the word “resistance”, I remember The Borg from Star Trek saying, “Resistance is futile”. Sometimes it is useless and ends only in sorrow).

Mel thought acceptance was a form of giving up. “Do you accept wars?” she asked me (she knew how to press my buttons).

I said, “I do. I acknowledge the fact that there are wars. It does not mean I am happy about them, but they are part of life”.

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Acceptance (2)

image[3]This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1).

Mel thought there was such a thing as Ultimate Justice that all people must follow. She had a very strict concept of Right and Wrong. Fairness was always examined from her point of view and her point of view was the center of the universe. Mel never thought fairness was relative and influenced by culture or upbringing.

When I described to her how the Thai people charged tourists and locals differently at temples or for food, she could not understand how that could be fair. When I gave her an example of a clash between different people’s definition of fairness, she had a “system failure” in her mind.

I remember myself writing protest poems at the age of 14. My notion of fairness was very clear and naïve then. When I was 27, my youngest sister came back from a trip to India and showed me her journal, where she had written, “Is it fair to make your child blind so he can be a better beggar and bring home more money to feed the whole family?” I experience that same “system failure” about fairness at the age of 27, when I tried to answer that question. My immediate reply was, “No, of course it’s not fair!”

But as I thought about it some more, I realized it is not that simple and there is no single right way of doing things. I was already a mother and I was pregnant, which made this realization more difficult, but I understood one big lesson about acceptance: what is fair for one is not necessary fair for another. There is no ultimate fairness. Fairness is totally subjective and we cannot judge others for having a different definition of fairness to ours.

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Acceptance (1)

All seasons are beautiful fo the person who carries happiness within I chose to tell you about Mel because she was generally miserable. On the surface, she ticked all the boxes of a wonderful life – she was a college profession, she had the cutest kids and she loved them very much, she was married and loved her husband deeply and she was financially secure. Yet, nothing made her happy – thoughts were her allies, but she found people most unreasonable. She was unhappy with the way they behaved and kept saying they did not make any sense.
Although I am not convinced there is a formula for being happy, I think there is formula for being miserable. Mel had that formula and lived by it every day of her life. Through clients like Mel, I have seen how the mind can create this suffering. As a very smart, curious person, Mel had some beliefs, thoughts and ideas that made her miserable and caused her to think she did not understand the world and could not make sense of it. What Mel missed was the understanding of acceptance. She confused acceptance with having low standards, with compromising on mediocrity and with giving up.

Mel was an amazingly smart woman, but she could not understand why others did not understand what she did. She did not understand why people did things that hurt others. She did not know how to relate to people without knowing their motives. She did not understand emotional (she called them “illogical”) decisions. When I told her that I never make logical decisions, because I am kinesthetic, she looked at me shocked. “What else is there?” she asked.

For me, 6 things summed up Mel’s thoughts and ideas and contributed to her self-torture.

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