Use More Inspiring and Fewer Soul Crushing Words

Earl NightingaleThe gravelly voiced sage of personal development, Earl Nightingale, once said, “We become what we think about.” For me anyway, this is an incredibly powerful statement. To help us become the next and even better version of us, our opportunity is to become far more aware of and precise about the language we use when we think our daily 10,000 to 60,000 thoughts or speak with others. 

We all intuitively know that words and thoughts carry positive or negative energy. They inspire us to create the next multi-billion dollar business or demobilize us so much we can barely face the day. They bring us internal peace and fulfillment or consign us to a life of turbulence. Yup, I truly believe mere words are that powerful.

So how can we be more conscious of and deliberate with the words and phrases we choose and use in the moment?

Here is my starter kit for you.

Use These Three Sets of Words More Often

1) “How can I XXX?” — Derivatives for this include “how can we,” “what can I/we do in order to build/do/achieve YYY…” I can’t think of anything more powerful and empowering than this term. It urges positive thinking and action. It encourages the modeling of those best characteristics other people exhibit that you seek to incorporate into your own behavior. It drives learning, creativity, innovation and productivity in your personal and business life — individually, across teams, and throughout a company.

Pay extremely close attention to the people you encounter or read about in your everyday life who consistently use this expression. Observe them, learn more about them, and study their patterns. These are the folks you want to learn from and spend more time around. They are probably the people in the most senior positions at your company. Incidentally, I just dropped a big hint. If you don’t engage with people like this, find them on the Web and make them your fictional friends and mentors. No, I’m not kidding. For example, let me introduce you to my pal Richard, who can teach you a lot. Oh and another thing, BECOME the person who repeatedly utters this term!

2) “What else could this mean?” — Ahh…the indignities of life. That person who cuts you off on the highway, bumps into you on the sidewalk while immersed in their smartphone, repeatedly interrupts you during meetings, or the many other thousand small skin abrasions of daily life. I don’t know about you, but unchecked, my first tendency is to get judgmental and become angry because I feel like they’ve “offended me.” And this type of thinking is incredibly negative and energy draining. Hint: becoming “offended” WAY less often, if ever, is a powerful practice that I’m working on.

Instead, we always have the opportunity to create an alternate positive explanation and not take how we are seemingly personally treated…ummm…personally. That person who just cut you off on the highway? What if she/he has an acute stomach disorder thingy going on (need I say more?) and needs to get to a restroom ASAP?

Tony Robbins is big on the “what else could this mean” way of thinking, and he is not alone. The deepest of spiritual and philosophical texts teach there is no “meaning” in anything except that which we give it. I’ll save going deeper into this topic for another occasion, but I suggest you think long and hard about the concept of “meaning.” Short story: whatever in life you give meaning to as being outstanding or heinous, I guarantee you there are plenty of people who place an opposite meaning on that very same thing.

3) “That’s awesome!” — Derivatives include “amazing, excellent, fantastic, cool,” etc. What if more of us on the planet appreciated the vast number of wonderful little things — the every day things, as well as the big things? This is an expression we can use often with others as long as we do it sincerely. As an example I can’t help but think of Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, one of the most affluent people on the planet, who speaks all the time with the passion and fascination of a child at Disneyland. Every seventeenth word out of Marc’s mouth is “amazing!!!” He is not kidding around. And what the HELL is wrong with THAT?

Or we can use it when thinking and observing inside of our own minds. Here is a wacky narrative I often play in my head: I sometimes think of “transporting” myself along with a technology innovation I risk taking for granted back in time by a few decades. For example, what if in my current 53 year old amazing physique and positive mindset, I strolled into my apartment back in Brookline, Massachusetts thirty years ago (1985) to find my 24 year old roommate Bob sitting on the couch and watching an episode of “The Golden Girls.” I’d turn off Bea McArthur, coolly stare into the distance, whip out my iPhone 6, remotely fire up the stereo, and start wirelessly BLASTING some Tame Impala thanks to AirPlay and of course an AT&T wireless router hidden somewhere in the apartment. Yeah that’s right…so much of the stuff we are blasé about is AWESOME!

Honorable Mention: “Thank you.” Do we ever say or hear this enough? I think not. There is nothing quite so lovely as uttering or hearing a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU.

Avoid These Three Sets of Words

1) “It is what it is.” — I have searched long and far, and am hard-pressed to think of a more negative and disempowering expression. Of course I realize the intent of someone using this term is to soften the blows of life’s smaller and larger stresses that none of us can seemingly change for ourselves or others. But it’s an incredibly passive and negative way to perceive the world. Do you remember that we were just talking about “meaning?” Stated differently, it NEVER is what it is. “It” is only the meaning we give it. It’s what we make it. And in my book this is true in every case. Example: How else could you express the meaning of a death of a loved one after a long and harrowing illness than by saying, “It is what it is?” Here is one way, and I speak from experience, “I guarantee you they are in a better and more peaceful place.”

2) “That’s sad.” — Derivatives are that “XXX (person, person’s life, or situation in general) is sad.” First of all, let’s acknowledge that since virtually everything we experience is subjective, then what one states as being sad may be so…to them. But if I see the homeless person on the street eating out of a trash can, is there a chance I might think this person is doing better than she had been 24 hours ago? Is there a chance this is a temporary situation? Is there a chance she is simply happy to be alive? Do we really know? And how does stating something in such negative terms help anything or anybody within hearing range, including that homeless person?

Here is an interesting concept. In this situation, instead of proclaiming the circumstance as sad, we can instead ask ourselves, “What can I do to make the lives of homeless people easier, starting right now?” We can donate a portion of our time or money to a food pantry, volunteer at a homeless shelter on a Saturday, etc. Now how sad is THAT? Because now we are helping instead of bemoaning! We are taking action instead of passively commenting.

3) “That’s not realistic.” — A derivative expression is “That’s not reality.” Now, do you notice a common theme with these terms to avoid? They’re all based on a negative view of the world. And because this term in particular is highly cloaked, it is uniquely dangerous. By “cloaked” I mean the person using this term can say, “Hey, I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being REAListic.” Hint: That’s a key expression pessimists use, because they rarely define what is REAL as being positive. Trust me on this one as I’m a recovering pessimist. If you still don’t believe me, how often do you hear someone say, “That’s not realistic” with a positive connotation? Here is an example.

BOBBY: “Hey Johnny. Wassup! I couldn’t be more pumped. I’m just about to get my engineering degree from Cal Poly. And I’m confident I’ll land a great job immediately. Hell, in five years I could easily be raking in more than $120,000 per year.”

JOHNNY: That’s not realistic! With a degree from Cal Poly plus your coding skills PLUS your amazing internships, you could easily clear more than $200,00 annually within the next few years. And there are like a gazillion companies in San Francisco alone that are dying for skilled local talent. You were born for this, dude! So get real, and get moving!!

No no no. Instead, Johnny would be telling Bobby that he has his head shoved up his ass and needs to be REALISTIC — that in five years he’ll likely be serving up Loaded Nuggets Munchie Meals at the local Jack In The Box at 2 a.m. to earnest customers who can’t identify what that white sauce is, and living with his parents like all other 27 year old kids do. Because thinking any other way given today’s job market is simply not realistic.

Hint: Innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders of any type are not typically “realistic.”

Honorable Mention: “I disagree!” Hey, are you running for President and practicing your debate chops for the PBS broadcast? Because in my world, that phrase simply separates you from me and encourages divisiveness. And the last time I checked we are all in this together. Now of course you’re entitled to your own opinion and perspective. But may I suggest a bit more inclusively phrased verbiage? EXAMPLE: “Let me make sure I understand your perspective.” Or, “Hey, have you thought about it THIS way?” Or, “That’s interesting, and here’s the way I see it.” And as a last resort.”Well, I see things a bit differently.” Because honestly, when you DISAGREE, aren’t you trying to make yourself right and the other person “wrong?”

Now, if these terms to avoid have sucked the life out of you, then perhaps you’re internalizing how much power exists in ALL the seemingly innocuous everyday words that can fill up our headspace unless we take 100% responsibility for choosing our language more carefully and precisely in every moment. Incidentally, I don’t know any consistently upbeat, energetic, enthusiastic and empowering folks who ever use any of these negative expressions.

The bottom line: Stay positive my friend, with as many thoughts and words as humanly possible! And let’s go forth and create.

Are You A Creator Or A Critic?

Sidewalk Sam
Robert Guillemin (aka Sidewalk Sam)

This is the question I began asking myself repeatedly about 10 years ago. Let me explain.

In my 20s I was a raging critic. I had opinions about everything and everyone, most of them negative. Needless to say, this was not coming from a strong and secure sense of self.

Hello Dad, I’m A Cynic

I remember a phone conversation when my father said to me, “Steven, do you need to have an opinion on absolutely everything?” My bet is he saw this quality in me that he wasn’t wild about possessing himself. At the time I believe I returned his question with a criticism. 

Later on in my 30s I was frequently referred to as cynical during dinner parties.

It was supposedly a compliment, as in, “Oh Steve, you make me laugh. I love your cynicism!” But it wasn’t flattering to me.

And then about 10 years ago, I had a friend who repeatedly and enthusiastically suggested I become a restaurant critic. “Steve! I mean come ON. You would make a GREAT restaurant CRITIC!”

My Gradual Conversion

The term “critic” didn’t sit well with me at all. I looked up critic in the dictionary: “a person who judges, evaluates, or criticizes.”

“Yuck,” I thought. “That’s not me! Or is it…? Judging? Being judgmental? Oh lord I need to lose that.”

After pondering this for many weeks, it hit me. The critic generally criticizes something that someone else created. So I looked up the word ‘creator:’ “a person or thing that creates; originator.” Much better! I mean, is there anything more powerful than an originator?

Then I thought: “What if I take some of my considerable energy spent critiquing and instead keep my pie hole shut more often and allocate chunks of time toward creating ANYTHING? I want to be a creator, dammit!”

And in the last decade I’ve learned five reasons why this makes much more sense. Creators:

  1. Operate at higher productivity levels.
  2. Make more money.
  3. Live more engaged, energetic, and fulfilled lives.
  4. Generate more value for those around them.
  5. Have more inner peace.

While I can’t back these claims up with empirical data, this is exactly what spending more time in “creator mode” has done for me.

I’m not going to lie and tell you that POOF, I flipped a switch one day and became a born again creator. There is still a critical demon festering deep inside of me who I need to “address” every day. But I’m continually getting better at this.

Of course one may counter that in the professional workplace, criticism is essential. Many companies pride themselves on having a feedback culture. And I’ve witnessed firsthand how the deliverables coming out of said companies are unquestionably of much higher quality thanks to a battery of high pressure, detailed and scrutinizing reviews, focus group sessions with customers, and dozens of iterations. But let’s make the distinction between constructive feedback and deconstructive criticism.

Create A Better Workplace With Constructive Feedback

For example, consider a PowerPoint deck. What if one of your direct reports shows you the slides she spent the entire weekend building, and you respond by saying, “Wow, this draft sucks. I don’t even know where to begin. Please rethink this deck. I need a workable draft by the end of the day.” How will this feedback help?

What about asking clarifying questions such as: Who is your specific audience and what do they need and want in their daily life? What do you want them to remember about your presentation? What specific action(s) do you want them to take? How have you thought through the organization and sequencing of your story? How can you tell this story more simply and cleanly? 

Now, in addition to providing constructive feedback that helps this direct report rethink her deck without admonishing her to “rethink the deck,” we are actually creating value for that person and our employer, not to mention the audience who will simply be wowed by v27.pptx when it hits the big screens at the Moscone.

Create Anything. Just Do It.

If this notion of spending more time in “creator mode” seems too vague, here are 22 tangible things we can create, and this is just to get warmed up. It doesn’t matter if what you first create isn’t that good. Just strengthen the muscle. OK, here goes: Workout playlist, workout, song, poem, magazine article, blog, book chapter, 10 book chapter titles, website, video storyboard, video, recipe, meal, business plan, marketing plan, iOS app, Kickstarter project, company, charitable foundation, photograph, book case, flower garden. (Why 22 tangible things? Because many decades ago, I owned this album, which clearly made a lasting impression.)

While many of these examples may have less to do with earning a living than others, consider the aphorism that “How you show up anywhere is how you show up everywhere.” I’ll bet that Dana, who comes into work on Monday sharing the great photos she took and edited in Photoshop during the weekend, is more of a “go to person” among her colleagues than Rafael, who drones on in detail about the crappy movie he saw on Saturday night. And when the line inevitably crosses over from criticizing a movie to spreading negative gossip about a coworker, we are then engaging in a humongous spirit and soul sucking productivity drain.

It’s not what the workplace needs. And it’s not what the world needs. The world also doesn’t need another negative Amazon review expressing fury at the indignity of wasting five hours reading a terrible work of fiction with no plot that cost less than nine dollars for the Kindle version.

What the world needs now, besides love sweet love, is more of you and me creating stuff that makes a positive impact on those around us. So now let’s go forth and create.

NOTE: The photo at the top of this post is of Sidewalk Sam, the embodiment of a true creator. RIP Sam.

No News Is Good News


How would you like an extra 90+ hours per year to focus on whatever you’d like? You can spend more time with your family, pursue a passion, make more Benjamins, or do all of these since we’re talking about a lot of time. But that’s not all. How would you like a more positive view of life and the world? Perhaps you’d like to generate more energy and consistently add more value to those around you? Here is all you need to do.

Stop consuming generalized news in any form. Or at the very least, dramatically minimize your intake. This means TV, newspapers, radio, and most particularly, “online anything” through a browser or specialized app. It also includes Twitter and Facebook consumption, sharing, and commenting on the viral news topics of the moment. This 90 hour figure is based on 15 minutes per day of news and gossip consumption. Many of us spend far more than that.

Why Generalized News Is Holding You Back

Consuming news does not make you a more informed citizen. That’s because there is a ton that “happens” you will never read about or see on television. In addition, you have the power to be your own scrutinizing information news editor, selecting and discerning whatever specialized information you would like versus having generalized and often poorly crafted content serially curated for you by a team of editors more concerned about eyeball and revenue generation than informing us with valuable and actionable insights.

Staying on top of so-called current events does not make you more productive or effective at your job. I’m thinking about the last ten years I spent in CRM at three different companies. Not once do I ever remember anyone, including me, benefitting from reading or discussing the general news. I constantly speak with people in senior management at tech companies during my early AM gym workouts. Most cannot be bothered with the news. They simply have too much else going on.

Being a news junkie does not make you more interesting to your family, friends or colleagues. Actually, it may contribute to you holding unnecessarily divisive views about politics, economics and society in general. To break down my own divisiveness habits, I’m thinking of embarking on an experiment. It’s called, “Five Things I Admire About XXX.” This is where I will research and write down five things I learn and highly respect about multiple politicians on both sides of the aisle I seemingly “dislike” based on the information previously drip fed to me. I won’t name names here for obvious reasons. But I’m fairly confident doing this will soften my “positions” up quite a bit until I’m as pliable as a tub of butter left on the counter all day long. Seriously, a recurring theme you’ll hear from me is that we’re all in this together.

The news does not empower you to take more productive action in the world. Sadly, the opposite may be true because of the considerable time wasted consuming the news. And complaining does nothing good for anyone within hearing range, including yourself. Sure, you could write to your friendly government representative. And while that may sound appealing, have you ever actually emailed a senator or congressperson? I have plenty of times. It feels psychically rewarding in the moment. And then a few months later when you finally receive an automated response, you realize you weren’t recognized. As for those “constituents” I’ve often heard politicians talk about,  I don’t know who they are, but I know they are not me.

Instead, do you feel like starting a peaceful movement? That’s something different entirely. Rock on, I salute you!

Reading high quality news will not improve your reading, writing and thinking skills any more than reading any other high quality literature will, like a great book. The “read the New York Times to succeed in life” fable was drilled into my head as a kid. I can still hear the loud admonition. “Read the New York Times cover to cover every day! Or else you’ll end up at UMass!!” Wow, that’s a fate worse than death. Well, actually I’ll cede a bit of ground on this one. The New York Times is still very well written. But there are so many other ways of becoming a better learner and communicator. Incidentally I did go to UMass Amherst and have done A-OK in life, thank you very much. Go Minutemen!

Here’s what the news does. It wastes our time, demoralizes us, and most importantly, gives us an extremely distorted and pessimistic sense of what is going on in the world. Case in point: We’re now living in the most dangerous time in history, correct? Of course not! By any one of several measures we are living in the most peaceful times ever. In fact, nearly 1.35 billion people came home from their local movie theater last year without getting shot in the head. But that doesn’t make for an attention getter, does it? Seriously, the news can’t help but move us toward a world view that does not align with what is actually taking place in the world. This is individually debilitating and collectively dangerous.

Please keep in mind I’m talking about generalized news. By all means selectively follow specialized news that will help you advance in your profession, become more skilled in the mastery of your passions, train you how to become a better parent, or kick ass in just about any other learnable skill.

I love using Feedly for discrete information grabbing to stay on top of tech/gadget news, a smidgen of business information, and a lot of career and personal development blogs like this, this, and this, just for starters. I also listen to podcasts.

Here is one exception to my tirade, and I write this hesitatingly. if you live in the United States and want to stay on top of what the most powerful 538 politicians on the planet are up to, I give you permission to add Politico’s Top 10 Huddle to your Feedly. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to a daily play by play of what happened in the U.S. Congress. I spend about five minutes with this news source once per week.

And now that I’ve perhaps annoyed you during this visit together, let me assure you it’s because I care about you far more than NBCUniversal, CBS, Disney-ABC, CNN, Rupert Murdoch, or the Sulzberger family do. And I can guarantee that significantly reducing your consumption of generalized news will increase your levels of inner peace AND help you make more money provided you direct your attention to specialized information you can learn from.

I almost forgot – PBS Newshour, NPR News, and BBC News are out too.

So, how have my news consumption habits changed? In the last year I’ve gone from reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal daily — plus watching or listening to a couple of hours of news each week, to spending about 15 to 30 minutes with the Economist per week, plus yes, a COUPLE of NPR stories I find and listen to online. I also spend more time reading Harvard Business Review — versus letting my $99 per year subscription languish — and find it a refreshingly optimistic source of practical business thinking and best practices. Oh, and did I mention that for nearly the past year I haven’t had a full-time job. I write this because if anybody has time to bury himself in the fine details of the latest Hollywood divorce rumors, it is me.

Lest you think I’m being extreme with all of this, Rolf Dobelli wrote a lengthy, thought-provoking, and far more blunt essay on this topic five years ago. It is worth a slow and deliberate review. He asserts that news stories are delivered like little bits of wrapped candy that cause us to focus on what may be “new” and sweet but are most often not relevant. And just like what sugar does to the body, news corrodes our mind. It puts us in a state of more chronic stress. It increases our natural ability to make cognitive errors that impair our thinking skills. And it makes us more passive and less creative. 

If I have slightly soured your mood during the last six minutes of estimated reading time, then I have GREAT news for you. My wife says I am consistently more cheerful and upbeat these days. Yippee! And this is the promise I hold out for you. Now let’s go forth and create!

Why I Suck Slightly Less Than I Used To

Dan Akroyd in
Dan Akroyd in “Trading Places,” eating smoked salmon from his dirty Santa beard.

For many years, professional coaches have told us to focus on our strengths as a shortcut to career success. While I’m a fan of this approach, I also believe a failure to recognize behavioral weaknesses can hinder you professionally and reduce inner peace in your life.

For example, my negative behaviors have limited my career growth, resulted in severed friendships, alienated relationships with family members and caused unnecessary stress. But the good news is in the many years I’ve been working on myself, I have made great strides. By any definition my career has been successful. Much more importantly, I have an amazing marriage, a beautiful daughter, and am surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family.

How did I start recognizing these behaviors? Although asking for feedback is important, awareness is key. This includes longer term awareness — evaluating your behavior during a day/week/month, and “in the moment” awareness to instantly trap violations. Also, pay close attention to those characteristics in others that annoy you because it may be that you exhibit those same tendencies, which is why you get bothered. 

Even though I’ve reduced the severity of my negative behaviors, I still have a long road ahead. After a description of the following five behaviors you will find my self score and my wife Heather’s evaluation of me. 

Legend: 0 to 10, with 0 indicating an absence of the behavior, and 10 indicating an acute instance of the behavior. In other words, lower is better and higher is worse.

Criticizing work non-constructively – This is an area in which I have made a lot of progress. Constructive criticism to improve an end product is great, but tearing down is not.
Steve’s Score: 2
Heather’s Score for Me: 3

Judging people — When I am too hard on myself and not aware of it, I often label or tease others as a distraction. But by judging people you miss out on their inherent talents and goodness as human beings. Furthermore, everyone is capable of changing for the better, at any time. Leave typecasting to Hollywood directors.
My Score: 5
Heather’s Score for Me: 7

Procrastinating – Procrastination equals fear, as in fear you don’t know what you’re doing and the quality of your output will stink. Perhaps you’re right, but you’ll never know unless you start.

I often tell others my best work comes after I procrastinate. But if the only way I get work done is by procrastinating, then that’s my only output.

My wife Heather uses the expression, “Get it written before you get it right.” Gaining in-moment awareness and repeating this phrase has helped me in getting going, although based on the scores below I’m just getting warmed up.
Steve’s Score: 7
Heather’s Score for Me: 8

Pervasiveness Thinking – If you just got passed up for a promotion, then your whole life is ruined. But of course that’s not true.

In his landmark book about cognitive therapy, David Burns dedicated a chapter to this topic. “Your Work Is Not Your Worth.”  

Another leader in cognitive research, Martin Seligman (“Learned Optimism” is a must read), includes pervasiveness as one of the three tenets that define whether someone thinks more optimistically or pessimistically. Optimists understand a negative situation is typically limited to that one area of their life while pessimists let that circumstance permeate everything.

I believe I’ve made a lot of progress in this area. My wife thinks differently. And yes, we bickered a bit about this one earlier today. Her vote is the one that counts.
Steve’s Score: 6
Heather’s Score for Me: 10

Being Too Sensitive – This is a more abstract concept. Just what is “too sensitive?” Well, if someone tears you down and you let it ruin your day, then your opportunity is to build a thicker skin. Read a self-esteem book from Nathaniel Branden and do the written sentence completion exercises. Treat yourself well and love yourself.

Speaking of self love, I find it interesting how many people made fun of the Stuart Smalley skits back in the day on Saturday Night Live. But what if during his many years of playing the role, Al Franken benefitted from behaving like that satiric character? I mean, how many people do you know who have mastered comedic writing and acting, then book writing, and then politics? I admire Al Franken.

I hope this detour distracts you from noticing how much I currently suck in this area.
Steve’s Score: 10
Heather’s Score for Me: 10

Here is the upside of focusing on bad behaviors. If you’ve never watched the Seinfeld episode titled  The Opposite,” it is one of the most profound 22 minutes of comedy in history. By noting seemingly innate behaviors you don’t like, you can do the opposite instead of beating yourself up. Admittedly this is more simple than easy, but need I repeat the importance of becoming more aware?

Here are some habit changes. Instead of:

  • Harshly criticizing work, devise actionable suggestions to make it better, or ask eliciting questions.
  • Judging others and yourself, be open and accepting of everyone.
  • Procrastinating, take even a tiny action now. Find a place to hide, use the Pomodoro Technique, and during a 25 minute chunk, focus on only one thing.
  • Globalizing an adverse situation, cultivate a gratitude practice to remind yourself of how multi-faceted and ‘full’ your life is.
  • Taking everything personally, remember another Martin Seligman principle from “Learned Optimism” — it’s never personal.

With higher levels of awareness and focused personal development, my goal is to improve by two percent each month in my most acute areas – anything scoring higher than “5.” Through the power of compounding that equates to 27% in one year, 61% in two years, and 100% in three years. Clearly these numbers are theoretical but are a start. In his book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy shared the dramatic impact that little everyday decisions and habit changes can make in one’s life. More recently, James Altucher has been sharing his “daily practice” message about how much we can change our lives every six months by improving ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually…by a mere 1% per day.

I am hopeful and committed. Wish me luck.

Create a Personal Manifesto and Then Beat Your Chest Wildly

Jim Carrey spray paints his manifesto.
Jim Carrey spray paints his manifesto.

Perhaps we can skip the chest beating part, as well as the spray painting. Here is where I’m going. After contemplating sucking less last week, I wanted something much more positively stated, in writing, to remind me of what I aspire to be. I know I know…a “personal manifesto” — it sounds so annoying, or does it? Why not have a list of ideals you remind yourself of on a daily basis? Why not have an operating system for your behaviors and actions? My use of the word “ideals” is intentional. Speaking for myself, I am nowhere near achieving some of my principles consistently. So what? Isn’t it great to have something to reach for?

This all started for me because I’ve been digging into the teachings of James Altucher recently and found his article on personal manifestos. But I have to hand it to Marelisa Fabrega, who has a blog I resonate with, which includes articles on growth, productivity and creativity. She perfectly encapsulates what I wanted to capture and why…in a personal manifesto.

Here is my challenge to you, given that you probably have spent many hours of your professional life creating business plans, marketing plans, account plans, MRDs, product stories, product launch plans, PR plans, event plans, countless PowerPoint presentations, etc.. Why not take 60 minutes and write down a few words that help guide YOU? I have to believe it will bring more fullness to every aspect of your life.

OK, here goes. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Oh hell. I’m showing you mine anyway. Enjoy your week!

My 21 Point Personal Manifesto

  1. Energy – I recognize that energy is the currency of life, and one of the “things” that people count on me for the most. Therefore I seek to continually improve my ability to generate energy, through eating healthy foods, vigorous exercise, and continual movement throughout the day interspersed with paced relaxation.
  2. Learning – I value continuous learning and growth. I strive to better myself everyday, recognizing that while I am “complete” as I am, I want to learn more so I can contribute more. I am open to learning from everyone and everything including a range of written materials. I also learn from my own mistakes and so-called “failures.”
  3. Goal Focus – I am goal focused, and recognize that a goal delayed is not a goal denied. Modifying goals is fine, changing plans to meet goals is even better, and I constantly look for the teachable moments from mistakes I make in goal attainment. What I learn and who I become in attaining my goals is more important than the actual goals.
  4. Contribution – I have a broad definition of contribution – creating and adding value for others every day.
  5. Inner Guidance – I am guided internally, by my own signals and intuition. This means I may “do things” that others regard as odd or weird. That is OK, particularly if it serves a useful purpose in furthering these principles.
  6. Connection – I connect to God/Spirit/Creator every day. This is through praying, meditating and thinking/contemplation.
  7. Listening – I continually work on improving my listening skills so I can behave more empathetically with people and understand  where they are at, with no judgment – and advice only if they ask for it.
  8. Suggesting – I make constructive suggestions and/or ask eliciting questions to help and guide people in all realms of their live. I do not criticize negatively or in ways that are not actionable.
  9. Laughter – I look for small moments of joy in everyday life, laughing and bringing laughter and more lightness to those around me.
  10. Respect – I  show respect and compassion for other people, regardless of who they are or what station in life they are at. I do not tease, criticize, label, judge, or make fun of other people, nor do I gossip about them. And in return I don’t accept these behaviors from other people. In this regard I treat “blood” (family) the same as “water” (friends).
  11. Golden Rule – I treat other people as I wish to be treated. I strongly believe in the Law of Atraction, i.e., that what we send out is inevitably what we get back in return.
  12. Unity – I think and behave in adherence with my belief that we are all one. “Separation” is not my bag.
  13. Becoming More Aware – I continually increase my levels of moment-to-moment awareness through redirecting my thoughts, and through deep breathing.
  14. Expressing Gratitude – Conveying gratitude is always key for me. I write down what I’m thankful for daily, express with my family what I’m grateful for, and demonstrate gratefulness by seeking to both help and thank others, and lighten their spirit.
  15. Forgiving Myself and Others  – It is OK to “fail myself and others.” And I continually work hard to forgive others more quickly and more fully. Every day is a new day. And everybody, including myself, does the best they can.
  16. Patience – I recognize that things in life happen when they are intended to, which is not necessarily on my schedule.
  17. Self-Love – I treat myself with respect and compassion. While I am certainly imperfect I love myself with all my imperfections, just as I am.
  18. Inner Peace – I value inner peace more than happiness. I can tangibly “feel” what inner peace is like in those moments when I think I have it. And I believe happiness is a byproduct of inner peace.
  19. Creativity – I admire “creation,” have a  broad definition of what constitutes creativity, and believe we are all creators if we align ourselves in that mindset. I seek to “create” in any form every day.
  20. Learning from Adversity – While I don’t “like” adversity I recognize it makes me more resilient and often helps me learn faster, particularly when I ask, “what else could this mean?”
  21. Spending – I am focused on gaining 100% financial independence for our family. This means I am deliberate in defining “needs” versus “wants.” While we enjoy an abundant life, I save money every year — living below and when possible well below our means. I don’t know anyone named Jones – keeping up with them has no appeal.

There Are No Ordinary Moments

BART - Ordinary Moments

“The quality of each moment depends not on what we get from it, but on what we bring to it. I treat no moment as ordinary, no matter how mundane or routine it appears.”
– Dan Millman, No Ordinary Moments

This is a brief story not about me, but of a different man named Steve. He is a highly successful financial adviser who has a large and beautiful home in one of the most affluent communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Handsome, smart, highly personable, and almost always upbeat, Steve is an early morning fixture at an area high end gym I work out at. He has an attractive, strong, highly centered and emotionally supportive wife, two extremely well-adjusted children, and loads of friends.

A professionally-focused guy who works very hard, Steve is always trying to better himself. It’s pretty common to see him at the gym with a thick manual in his hands as he is invariably studying for an exam at an evening course in finance. Steve also enjoys his leisure time immensely, particularly in nearby Lake Tahoe. Steve grew up in the UK, was a rugby player during his formative years while spending time in Asia Pacific, and 30 years later is extremely physically fit. Tough Mudders? Steve eats them for breakfast.

A master at positively reframing negative situations, Steve has a pile of wisdom, seemingly far beyond his 50 years. In fact I’ve only seen Steve feeling down twice: once when he was in the process of changing brokerages before joining a well-known firm, and the other time while renovating his new house and running into an unending series of unanticipated costly surprises.

One day in late February of this year we all saw Steve at the gym bench pressing a ridiculous amount of weight followed by laughing with his fellow gym goers. And then a few days later we didn’t see him…for awhile. But since people regularly appear and disappear during the early morning workout hours based on travel schedules, injuries, or having the nerve to not awaken at 5:00 a.m., most of us didn’t notice it. But then one morning a friend named Jeff came my way and asked, “Hey, did you hear about Steve?”

Steve had contracted what he thought was a very bad flu and then fell unconscious. His wife immediately brought him to a hospital in San Mateo, and he quickly ended up at Stanford, where doctors diagnosed Steve with Hepatitis B, which he apparently had been carrying around for many years and didn’t know about it. Because his liver was poised to fail within 72 hours, if no replacement liver was found that would be a match for Steve, he would die. It was unfathomable to us how a fixture of health like Steve could have fallen victim to such a rare disease and be in such a precarious condition.

Through miraculous hurdles and due to his excellent physical shape, Steve got moved to the top of the national donor list. The doctors at Stanford performed a successful liver transplant surgery. After a few very stressful days for his family and friends, Steve regained consciousness.

To be clear, it’s not like Steve and I were close friends. I would call us acquaintances. But I had known him for many years, and had respected and highly admired him. Also, a true confession since I’m only human: I was definitely jealous of him as well. In the words of another gym goer, Steve was “the IT guy.” That is IT as in the guy you want to be like, not “Information Technology guy.”

In any event, on a sunny and warm Monday afternoon in early March I visited Steve at Stanford as he was recuperating from his surgery. He looked pale but otherwise healthy. However Steve was most definitely not in positive spirits, which while rare was not surprising given the circumstances. As usual his wife was a rock of positive energy and strength.

I spent all of two minutes in the room with him. The time just wasn’t right for a visit. The good news is that less than 24 hours later, Steve’s doctors released him from the hospital. Apparently that first evening he enjoyed a movie night and take-out food with his family. They laughed, relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.

48 hours later, while working on a project at Salesforce in San Francisco, I received a text from Jeff informing me that Steve had experienced a major setback and to call him. When I got down to the always busy lobby at 50 Fremont Street, Jeff told me during a barely audible phone conversation that very early on Wednesday morning, Steve had apparently experienced some form of violent seizure, and barely made it to the bathroom on the first floor of his home where he had been sleeping. That’s where his wife found him. Steve was dead.

While in reality the deterioration in Steve’s health took decades, we all thought he went from vibrant and alive to gone in a matter of days. I was numb, as was everyone with whom I came in contact. It’s the typical human reaction. “How could this happen to a guy as healthy as Steve?” And then the statement nobody utters out loud but everyone thinks, “Could this happen to me?”

I will never forget the shell-shocked look of hundreds of Steve’s family and friends at the funeral service the following Sunday. His brother, one of his closest friends, his boss — all three made the kind of heartfelt remarks that only come through having a unique human connection.  It was perhaps the most touching and beautiful funeral ceremony I have ever attended.

I’m forgetting who called Steve a “peaceful warrior” and told the audience how much he had been moved by Dan Millman’s books for many years. But later that evening I had an A-HA moment. I had forgotten that a few years before, Steve had suggested to me at the gym that I read “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” Dan’s first book. As is my habit, I purchased the Kindle version and let it macerate on my Kindle without reading it. However, in my own defense my wife and I did watch the movie with Nick Nolte, based on the book. The spiritual themes of gaining present moment awareness, serving others, and recognizing the sanctity of our allegedly boring everyday existence, were right up my alley.

The meaning I took from the A-HA moment that Sunday evening was that I needed to dig more deeply into Dan Millman’s teachings and learn about the wisdom Steve gained from him. I have since read his first three books, the first two of which are a hybrid of autobiography interspersed with fiction. The third book is written entirely in third person and is a traditional personal development tome. It is titled, “No Ordinary Moments.”

Dan comes across as a transformed and enlightened individual teaching a compelling set of principles to live a life of meaning and inner peace. I highly recommend his works. In this book he emphasizes the framework of “the three selves” as a guide for gaining the most effective inner direction. He asserts that at the heart of our essence is our Basic Self, almost a childlike nature that regulates our physical systems and serves as our subconscious mind. Then comes our Conscious Self, operating as our adult logical brain. And at the top of the pyramid is our Higher Self, which is the most difficult part of ourselves to tap into on a regular basis, and which provides higher levels of wisdom. We gain our highest potential when these three selves work in harmony, which is particularly challenging given the potential for constant conflict between the Basic and Conscious Selves. Lest this seem too esoteric, let’s see if you can relate to your logical mind telling yourself at your favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant that you’ve had enough to eat while something habitual and physical inside of you licks that big old plate of pasta carbonara completely clean. And then you shake your head and mutter, “What the hell did I just do?”

As for me, in last week’s article I mentioned how I’m trying to cultivate a practice of becoming more aware. Arguably, recognizing the special nature of each moment, even the seemingly most mundane ones we all experience each day, is at the heart of awareness.

Thank you for your wisdom Steve, and for being a great example and teacher who lived a very complete albeit way too short life filled with extraordinary moments. I still think about you often. May peace be with you.

P.S. I may have reported some of Steve’s story inaccurately, as much of it is based on perspectives I have gained from a few different people. But the essence is factual.

There’s No Better Time Than Now To Be In Energy

BP Plant

Last week when the sky began to again fall down in the U.S. equities market, Jim Cramer spoke with me very early one morning. To be more truthful, he spoke “at” me and millions of other CNBC viewers. I was at the gym on a treadmill before sunrise warming up for an outdoor run. Cramer implored his viewers to dump their energy stocks. He said something like, “If you’re in Big Oil, you’re catching a FALLING KNIFE! Get out NOW!!” As it so happens, I don’t subscribe to cable and only watch a few minutes of Cramer each week while on that treadmill before I invariably turn off the TV and walk in silence. Therefore, with no disrespect to Jim Cramer I’m holding onto my BP stock for a very long time.

Head Fake! We’re Talking About YOUR Energy

But that is not the point of this article. Instead I want to again return to the topic of personal energy, something so many of us complain we never have enough of.

The week before last, my wife, daughter and I went to Banff for five days, The mountain landscapes were so jaw dropping I couldn’t even take them all in. The walking, the hiking, and the recreational amenities were all world class. And yet I was miserable for more than half the vacation. Starting midweek, I developed a low grade fever that alternated between 97 and 99. I was achy, weak, tired, and had a slight sore throat.

I attributed the sickness to a typical 24 hour bug and soldiered through my symptoms with Ibuprofen, copious portions of smoked salmon from the breakfast buffet at the Fairmont, and plenty of germ killing alcohol. Meanwhile, my energy level went to crap. I took long afternoon naps every day and went to sleep even earlier than my typical octogenarian pattern. Working out was nearly impossible, but yet I still did it because I’m that kind of an OCD fanatic when it comes to exercise. And I was grouchy, irritable, and just plain ‘down.’

A Powerful Metaphor for Personal Energy

Returning to the topic of personal energy in general, I have always believed in the concept espoused by author and personal development trainer Brendon Burchard, of “generating energy.” Brendon focused on this in his book, “The Charge.” In essence, he literally recommends thinking of yourself as a power plant. Power plants don’t ‘have’ energy. They generate it.

But while in Banff, I couldn’t generate any energy, and this bothered me.  In large part this is because wherever I have worked, when people have complimented me — for example about something I wrote, a presentation I delivered, a training session I gave, or if I simply helped them laugh — they have always cited my high levels of ‘energy.’ I have literally thought of energy as my secret money maker weapon.

And now I just didn’t have any. I expected to feel better when I got back home. I did not. A week ago Monday night I finally threw in the towel and went to Urgent Care. It turns out I had strep throat, which I apparently contracted from my daughter, who has been a repeat sufferer this past summer.

As I write the initial drafts of this article on Monday, August 31st, nearly two weeks after I started feeling poorly, today is the first day I have my energy back. I feel awesome. The emotional funk has lifted. I’m thinking much more clearly and positively. I’m not whining or complaining at all. Damn it feels good to be alive!

Positive Thinking Is Not Enough

What’s the lesson? You can talk all you want about the importance of being emotionally resilient, and of having a positive growth oriented mindset. I know this is where I direct so much of my attention. But if you don’t have a strong physical backbone as your foundation. and are not constantly focused on how to create and generate energy consistently, I can assure you it will be much more difficult to regulate your emotional and mental strength. And this will impede your “success” in every aspect of your life. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but if I am, then how come I constantly encounter people from all ends of the economic spectrum who seem to be chronically lethargic and exhibit very low levels of energy?

And I guess that’s my point. Energy is not just my money maker – it’s yours as well. If you still think I’m out of my mind, consider the following people: Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Marissa Meyer, Marc Andreessen and Ginni Rommetty. Do you see any of these people speaking monosyllabically, moving lethargically…phoning it in? No you do not. Question: When is the last time you went through an entire week without thinking or stating out loud how tired you are? Hmmmm…..

It’s when something is taken away, like personal energy, that you have the opportunity to realize how valuable it is. I certainly have. So….start focusing on enhancing your physical health to “up” your emotional and mental game, contribute more to life, and yes, get more out of it as well. We can save the discussion for how to best fuel that power plant of yours for another day!

In closing, I send my deepest condolences to Wayne Dyer’s family and closest friends, given his passing last weekend. For me, Wayne exhibited the highest essence of personal energy, working consistently and tirelessly to teach us all for many decades, despite the many challenges he faced, until the very end of his life. He was a leading disciple on the topics of self reliance, spirituality, and inspiration. I look forward to continue learning from him for a very long time. Namaste Wayne!