To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
What was the best piece of cake you’ve ever eaten? Close your eyes and take a moment to remember it. (Mmm. Mine was my wedding cake six years ago.)
Now that you’ve had that mouth-watering moment (and hopefully, you’re not reading this while hungry), what was it that made it so delicious?
Did baking powder pop into your head?
Yet no matter how good the chocolate, high-quality the butter and eggs, or perfectly balanced the hint of cinnamon, if the essential – and flavorless – ingredient of baking powder had been missing, that cake would not have been so yummy; it would have fallen flat and tasted funny.
Resilience plays a similar role in success.
Just as we tend to think of the more flavorful ingredients that go into a cake, so we think of the obvious ingredients of success: brains, hard work, expertise, talent, creativity; leadership, relationship, and communication skills. The list of characteristics that make you successful goes on and on. But without resilience – the ability to bounce back from setbacks, change, and plain old disappointment – your success is likely to fall as flat as a cake without baking powder.
If you’re going to reach for your dreams, you need stick-to-it-iveness. Whether it’s a business or personal goal, giving up too quickly won’t get you where you want to be.
That’s where resilience comes in. It helps you focus your energy on moving forward when things don’t go as planned. And they rarely do, unless of course you’re living in a different universe than most us ;-).
Luckily, you don’t have to be born with a natural ability to roll with the punches. As I can personally attest, it’s a completely learnable skill.
Expect good things. A few years ago my friend Jill was going through a rough patch. When I asked her how she was holding up, her answer was, “I wake up every morning and expect something good.” Ultimately that’s exactly what happened. Attitude matters. Big time.
Control what you can control. There’s little to be gained by beating yourself up or railing against the fates. Rethink the problem and find a new approach, make a list of positive actions, or simply go for a jog or a yoga class to lower your stress. There’s always something within your control.
Find the learning. My client Annette is fond of saying, “Failure is not an option.” That attitude has directly translated into building a successful business because she never gives up. She’ll come at a problem three, five, ten times until she finds the solution that works. Even more importantly, she learns something from each attempt that didn’t work.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. In reality, most of the things that knock you for a loop end up in the “wasn’t such a disaster after all” category when you look back a year later. If you can remember that in the moment – instead of months later – you’ll be less stressed and more able to see your other options.
There are few investments of time and energy that yield a greater return than building your resilience.
Next time events catch you off guard or things don’t work out as hoped, flex that resilience muscle and keep right on going. Not only are you more likely to find good in the experience, but a lot more of your days will start to look like the way you want to live your life.
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
My friend Angela is one of the most cheerful people you’ll ever meet. I thought I’d gotten used to her optimism and centeredness … but I was wrong. My amazement returned when, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she said, “I had great news yesterday; it’s only stage three.
It’s all in how you look at it. The facts are the facts, and aren’t within her control. But her attitude certainly is.
As is yours …
Your perspective is one of the few things in life that is 100% within your control. There’s so much that’s not, so embrace what is!
I’d love to think that in Angela’s situation, I’d choose an equally-positive attitude, though I suspect it wouldn’t come to me as easily. I do know it would be a choice I’d need to consciously commit to every day.
Same goes for the day-to-day, less dire stuff
Stuff happens all the time – good, yucky and mundane. However, that’s not what creates your experience. Your perspective does. (And yes, some days that feels a tad counter-intuitive!)
My client Art, a gifted photographer and videographer, recently transformed the way he experiences his least-favorite activity: film editing.
He loves just about every aspect of producing his extraordinary museum documentaries except editing his video down to a mere fraction of what he shot. So much did he dread the process that it sucked the joy right out of the entire project.
Until he viewed editing through a new lens.
His process hasn’t changed; the work is exactly the same. But when he shifted his mindset from, “I’m beating this piece into submission” to “I’m interacting with the film and together we’re creating the story,” his entire experience changed.
If you’re already exercising your perspective muscle on a daily basis, good for you! But if not, here’s an exercise to get you started.
Choose one situation in your life that stirs up strong feelings: cranky, anxious, lazy, manic, angry, stressed … anything where you’d be thrilled to feel different. It might be a task similar to Art’s editing, a relationship you’re struggling with, or your reaction to your boss’s freakout every time he doesn’t know exactly where you are.
Name your current attitude. No judgment allowed in this step, just a few simple words that describe your view of the situation.
Brainstorm alternatives. The beauty of perspectives is that you make them up; they aren’t facts. In Art’s case the only actual fact was that he had video to be edited.
Move around the room as you consider options. Step outside and peer through the trees. Get a little wacky. How would a four year-year old see the situation? How about from the vantage point of ninety years old? Come up with at least five new options.
Pick your new perspective. It will take some time to replace your old view, and daily practice is critical. You’re creating new brain-tracks. I used to have a consistent mindset of “Oh dear” (actually it was a different four-letter word ;-)) if my day went sideways. It took about three months for my replacement perspective – it’s a learning opportunity - to become automatic. Stick post-its on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on your desk. Journal. Dance around the room three times a day chanting it. Anything that works to keep it top of mind.
Change your thoughts, change your experience. It’s amazing what perspective will do for you!
“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful.”
Practice moves you from where you are today to where you want to be. It provides learning and growth, builds skills, creates new habits, and cultivates resilience and strength. And that’s just a handful of its many benefits.
Consistent practice creates extraordinary results.
What practice doesn’t do is make perfect.
A quick trip down memory lane: perfect was a total bust.
I was nine years old and playing in a piano recital. No, I wasn’t a child prodigy. ;-) I was part of a group of kids performing at the local public library to an audience of proud parents and bored siblings.
When it was my turn, I completely blanked. I played a few notes, but the music I’d memorized was stuck in some inaccessible part of my brain. I sat frozen in shame, then burst into tears and ran off the stage, utterly humiliated.
That was bad enough, but after the recital my piano teacher felt it was helpful to tell me, “You didn’t practice enough, and practice is what makes perfect.”
Gah. How about I was nine years old and overcome with stage fright?!!
I hated practicing after that.
I actually liked playing the piano, but in my mind, practicing and playing were now two separate activities. Practicing had become completely connected to success or failure; playing wasn’t in the picture any more.
But you do need to practice to move from point A to point B. And the desire to get to B is what motivates you to begin the practice.
That’s true whether you want to master a new skill, train for a triathlon, become more mindful, learn to manage stress differently, prepare for a piano recital, or whatever it is that you’re working towards.
But if you approach practice as nothing more than a means to an end, you’ll miss out its true power: learning and growth, the cultivation of resilience, strength, and stick-to-itive-ness, and the development of new positive habits.
Magic happens when you embrace your practice as valuable in and of itself.
The act of practicing creates change that transcends your goal. Ultimately, you’re transformed by the practice itself.
And that’s what happened to my client Joanna when she took on a 90-day confidence practice.
Joanna was being considered for promotion to senior vice president of her division, a position that would be open in six months. The only outstanding question for her management was whether she had the self-confidence to play at senior levels in the company.
Ergo, the 90-day confidence practice.
The impetus for the practice was the potential promotion, yet Joanna quickly embraced the value of building her confidence regardless of the outcome. And that opened the space for her to genuinely build confidence, learning to act with more self-assurance in a way that was authentic for her.
What was involved in her practice?
Every day she practiced ONE thing and as she mastered each one, we customized the next activity.
For example, she started out by practicing (out loud) her answer to the question, “Why do you believe you’ll be a great senior executive” and noticed if her answer felt authentic. She kept practicing, every day, until she had an answer that rang true for her.
Yes, it took time and yes, there were moments of frustration. But the payoff was huge.
Joanna did get the promotion. (Yay!) But that’s not the point of this story, because her confidence practice had a much broader impact than the promotion.
Her stress around the impending decision dropped.
She became more comfortable putting ideas on the table that challenged the status quo.
Best of all, she started giving herself full permission to be who she is, rather than who others expected her to be. And that has transformed her life.
The magic of consistent practice is that it’s always working.
If you’re drawing a straight line from practice to THERE, you’re missing the point.
In Joanna’s case, she was promoted, but there were still plenty of ups and downs in those six months. Even now, two years later, she has the occasional crisis of confidence.
So practice didn’t make perfect.
It did something better.
About 45 days into the practice, she said, “I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get the promotion, but it no longer feels like my world will be rocked. I can see so many more possibilities for myself now.”
That’s practice in action!
What are you working toward?
Whatever it is, do something consistently every day – practice! – to move yourself closer to your goal.
And, even more importantly, embrace your practice as important unto itself, knowing that you’ll create something that has value far beyond achieving your goal.
You do it. I do it. We all do it. (This is one the birds and bees don’t do!)
My friend Dawn does it.
Last weekend as we were out walking, I asked about her new job as President of a small organization. “I’m finally excited,” she told me.
Knowing how enthusiastic she was when she accepted the position, I was surprised to hear she’d spent her first few weeks wondering if she’d made a mistake.
Her boss, who’s in a different location, had been responding like molasses to a series of important emails. A few times, he hadn’t even replied. With each slow response, her frustration around his lack of engagement grew – not a surprising reaction.
But that’s not what was really going on.
While it’s true he was slow to respond, she made up disinterest as the reason.
After stewing for several weeks, she finally decided to adopt a “why wonder when you can ask” approach. When she and her boss talked by phone, she learned he only uses email for non-urgent matters, relying on phone and in-person meetings for all the real communication. It was his assumption that she would somehow know this.
In this case, no lasting harm was done, but she sure wasted a good deal of emotional energy during those first few weeks.
Dawn’s not unusual; it happens to us all. We make up assumptions and stories, and we do it all day long.
One of my prior clients coined the acronym IGMU as a handy way to refer to hers. Since it sounds funny it makes her laugh and that helps her take her assumptions less seriously. It stands for “I got made up”…and then she fills in the blank. (I got made up that my friend Grace is recoiling in horror from the bad grammar.) The point isn’t to demonstrate mastery of the English language, but to help keep assumptions top of mind.
Next time you find yourself reacting to words, facial expressions, actions, or whatever it is that has you feeling mad, hurt, or worked up into a snit, start with a deep breath.
Then separate fact (she’s frowning) from assumption (she’s mad). Once you know what you’re making up, you can decide if you want to create a different story. For instance, she’s having a bad day. Or she just came from the dentist and is still numbed up. And if it really matters to you, go ask.
Once you start watching your stories and gathering your facts, you’ll find yourself saving energy and living more days the way you want to live your life. And who knows. You might even make up a fun word along the way.