How often do you challenge your own assumptions? Assumptions you may have about work, other people, even yourself? It’s been my experience that all of us make assumptions on some level, but very few of us have the insight and discipline to actively challenge them. Here is my most recent example, for your consideration.
I recently had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at an international PMI Summit in Ankara, Turkey. And even as I write these words, it seems almost surreal to me that my work has taken me to such incredible places and opened my world to so many more possibilities.
It has also presented me with challenges in regard to how I see myself and the world around me. My assumptions have been challenged – even shattered in many ways.
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in while, or the light won't come in.” – Alan Alda
When I was first invited to speak at the summit, I had many questions. What is it like there? How will I be accepted as an American? Is it dangerous? What about modern services like hotels, etc.? And a whole host of other questions that begged to be answered.
As I spoke with friends and colleagues about my upcoming trip, they certainly had some advice for me. I heard things like, “Be careful, they may not receive Americans well at this time,” or “It’s kind of dangerous over there right now and the terrorist threat level is high.”
Then, as I spoke with more friends who have traveled abroad extensively I began to hear some different things. “It’s an amazing country, very ancient and beautiful,” and “Istanbul is one of the most impressive cities in the world, with an incredible culture and amazing food.” (I went to Istanbul for a couple days after the summit in Ankara.)
Needless to say, some of these things gave me reason to pause and think about how I wanted to approach this trip. And I made a decision – I am going to go there just like I would travel anywhere in the U.S. – with an open mind and open heart; I’ll embrace the culture and immerse myself in the environment; and I won’t spend all my time and energy worrying about what can go wrong.
Let’s state the obvious – since I’m writing this, nothing went wrong.
“It's sad that we never get trained to leave assumptions behind.” – Sebastian Thrun
Now, let me tell you what went right. I was surprised and impressed by the city of Ankara, Turkey. It is a large city of more than 5 million people and I certainly didn’t expect that. It also has many modern buildings and amenities, including major shopping malls, modern roads and traffic systems, and exquisite restaurants. In fact, it’s a very cosmopolitan city. Assumption shattered.
The people were amazing – open, friendly, welcoming, and warm. In fact, the hospitality they showed me was beyond my expectations. And I never felt unsafe at any time while there. In fact, I’ve never felt more welcome in a place I’d never been before. And the food? Well, let’s just say that my suitcase wasn’t the only thing that came home with a few extra pounds! Assumption shattered.
The Summit was incredibly well organized, well attended, and there were speakers from around the world who contributed to the event. And when I had my opportunity to deliver the closing keynote on day 1, I seized the moment.
I have believed for some time that my work transcends many boundaries – including cultural. This was my first real chance to test that assumption in person. I have delivered global learning events and webinars in the past, but didn’t really have the opportunity to speak face to face with attendees and get their perspectives once it was over.
My presentation was very well-received, and at the end of my keynote I spoke with dozens of people at the summit who told me how much my message resonated with them and even inspired them. Assumption confirmed.
“Untested assumptions and lazy habits of thought can be shown up, once put in a spotlight of a different hue.” – Julian Baggini
All of this led me to ponder the question, “Where else might my assumptions about the way things are (people, places, etc.) create unrealistic expectations or fears or prevent me from seeing what’s true?” I mean, we all make assumptions about these things, and many times they get in the way of us truly connecting with others. It’s worth a look.
Take some time and ask yourself some questions. What am I making assumptions about? WHO am I making assumptions about? What are those assumptions preventing me from seeing, believing, or understanding? How are my assumptions preventing me from getting the best from myself and the people around me? It’s human to have them. It’s enlightened leadership to question them.
Below are some pictures from my experience as keynote speaker at an international PMI Summit in Ankara, Turkey.
Let me know what assumptions you’ve become aware of in your life and work. What has been the impact of these assumptions? Share your comments, and let’s start a dialogue.
One of the first bits of advice I received from a writer friend when I began to publish these newsletters was to “write what you know.” It made a lot of sense to me back then, and it still holds true today. In each of my newsletters, I write from a very personal point of view about issues that I have experienced or may still be experiencing in my own life. It seems to add a level of authenticity to my writing, and also helps me to take a more objective view of my own life and to maybe even see things from a different perspective. In that vein, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about something I have a great deal of experience with in the last few years – the idea of “Reinventing Yourself.”
There are many people who are struggling with this very issue right now – some of them are my friends. Some are probably your friends or family, as well. All around us, people are still being downsized, furloughed, laid off, and their jobs eliminated. No matter how you choose to spin it, the truth is that people are losing jobs, taking massive pay cuts, or have been unsuccessful in finding new employment. I heard someone remark recently that the new definition of an optimist is someone who takes their lunch to work!
What are they (or we) to do? Let me share some of my story of personal transformation with you, in the hope that it may inspire you to see yourself differently, reexamine your assumptions about who you are, and maybe even start you on the path to reinventing yourself.
Prior to becoming a sought-after coach, trainer, and speaker, I spent more than 25 years working for a world-class manufacturing company. I was accomplished, well known, respected, liked, and – dare I say – comfortable. I figured this was my end-game, and that I would work there until retirement, enjoying the perks of the job and living a very contented lifestyle.
Well, all that came to an abrupt end in November of 2008 when I was told my services were no longer required. 25 years. Gone. Suddenly everything I knew was thrust into uncertainty. What would I do? So much of who I thought I was, my internal sense of identity, was tied to what I had been doing for all those years. Who am I without my job? How will I support my family? How will I recover from this massive blow?
I had some hard choices to make. The first one was, what will I do with the rest of my work life? I had for many years joked, “I hope I never lose this job, because I don’t know how to do anything else.” Well, now it was time to figure it out. I had to ask myself some powerful questions and determine what was next for me – I had to reinvent myself. Here are some strategies I used to find my way, discover the previously unseen path, and eventually find not only a new career path, but also my true passion in life.
Find Your Strengths
What are the things that you love to do? What are those things that you are really good at, and when you do them you feel like you just are “in the flow?” When you can identify and connect with your strengths, you can use them as a guide for finding your way. There is great truth to the notion that you will never become a peak performer by working to improve your weaknesses. You become a peak performer by improving upon your strengths.
Look to Your Values
Values are intrinsic. They are those things that you can’t live without. They can also give you great insight into your direction for your life. People who live in alignment with their values tend to be the most balanced, fulfilled, and happy. Pick out a path that you love, because in it you will find the energy to sustain you as you move forward, even when you encounter challenges. When you pursue something you love, it becomes easier to take the inevitable bumps and bruises. Use your values to give you guidance in finding what you really want for your life.
Don’t let Circumstances Control Your Thoughts and Feeling
We tend to see our thoughts and feelings as being caused by the events that occur in our life. What really happens is there is an event, we interpret what it means to us, and then we form our thoughts, which create our feelings. You need to anticipate that there will be challenges and struggles. When you recognize them as part of the process, they lose their ability to rob you of your momentum. Did you know that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” contains the dual symbols representing both danger and opportunity? Where do you choose to focus your attention? Don’t let circumstances control your feelings.
Self Care is Important
It can’t be stated emphatically enough that a strong, healthy body can help you produce better results. Take care of yourself, eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. It will have a direct impact on your state of mind.
What do You Need?
If you find a new path that you want to take, do your research before you leap. What skills, knowledge, or education do you need to take on this new career path? When you learn what is needed to pursue this new direction, you can plan your next moves and provide yourself a greater opportunity for success.
Nothing great was ever achieved without effort. If you continue to focus on the end goal, it will give you the motivation to keep going even when you meet challenges. Being persistent means not giving in when you hit an obstacle. Find a way to get over it, under it, through it, or around it. In the groundbreaking book, “Think and Grow Rich,” author Napoleon Hill emphasizes persistence so much that he devoted an entire chapter to it.
Reach for Support
Who are the people in your life who can give you the support you need to take on the new challenges you face? What others do you need to bring into your life to help? Who can give you insights, knowledge, or contacts to assist? Look for support, because the world is truly filled with people who want to help you. It’s up to you to reach out to them and ask. Don’t let ego get in the way. Ego stops you from looking outside yourself for answers. The same thinking that got you here, won’t get you to where you want to go
What is Your “Why?”
Your purpose must be stronger than your challenges. I ask clients all the time, “What is your “why?”‘ Last year, I wrote a newsletter about my friend, Keli Wilson, who decided she wanted to take a stand in the fight to beat world hunger, focusing specifically on children under 5, who comprise the largest at-risk group for starvation. That is what I call a powerful reason, or “why,” for her to get up and do something every day. What is your why?
Overcome Self-Limiting Beliefs
I remember seeing an old Clint Eastwood movie, I think it was one of the Dirty Harry movies – and in it he says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Well, you also have to know that whatever limits you perceive in your life, they are a creation of your own self-limiting beliefs. Most of us formed the majority of our beliefs at a very early age as a result of our experiences with parents, siblings, friends, peers, teachers, etc. However, most of us carry those with us throughout our lives and never stop to ask if those beliefs still serve us. What is the evidence that supports those beliefs? If there is no longer any evidence to support them, then the beliefs MUST change!
Play All Out
When you discover something that is important to you, don’t be afraid to play all out! Sometimes you have to let go of that notion of embarrassment or humiliation in order to push yourself beyond your perceived limits. Remember that embarrassment is an inside job. It’s a function of ego, and it has no place in the journey you’re going to take.
What Would You do if You Knew You Couldn’t Fail?
There are clues in the answer to this question, too. This isn’t about fantasizing or thinking unrealistically. If you’re 55 and think you always wanted to be an astronaut, well, that door may be closed. But if you always wanted to open a flower shop or start a childcare facility or become a dog groomer – the possibilities are there for you. Take the previous steps we talked about, and put your plan together.
Remember to Laugh!
Why do we take ourselves so seriously? There needs to be some room in your life for laughter and joy, regardless of what’s going on around you. If you can find the courage to laugh at yourself and remember that there is joy in the world, it will make a difference in how you go about the process of reinventing yourself. Again, ego takes center stage when we can’t find the ability to laugh at ourselves. If you’re not having any fun, then you are trying way too hard and taking it all far too seriously.
Why Would I Look for Fulfillment in my Work?
Why wouldn’t you? You spend about 1/3 of your life working, maybe more – if you are not doing something you love, then you are selling yourself short. The thing is, you are selling your life for that paycheck. Is it a fair trade?
Now I’m not saying that if you do all of these things, your life will magically become better, you’ll find that dream job you’ve been looking for, and all your worries will cease. But what I am saying is that if you do these things, you stand a far better chance of that happening than if you don’t. There are many choices you will make as you continue to live your life. Think about the impact that this decision will make on your quality of life.
Maybe you don’t need to reinvent yourself professionally. What about personally? Sometimes the transformation we need the most, is the one we fear the most. These strategies will hold true whether the change you seek is personal or professional.
I often write about change because as much as we know about it – at work, at home, in health, in personal or professional life – we honestly still struggle much of the time with it. Change creates uncertainty and can lead to fear, even when the change is something we want.
Today, I want to discuss a different approach to change. I’m going to discuss what I call a compassionate approach to change. Before I get into that, I want to make one thing clear – the first rule of change is that it’s already happening, you can’t stop it, and it has an energy all its own. That said, read on and discover.
Everyone has something they want to change about themselves or their lives. Whatever your specific reason to change or whatever you’re looking for, we all know what that feels like. We all know what it’s like to feel stuck or feel uncertain about what’s next. And at those times we can judge ourselves harshly and actually prevent ourselves from reaching those goals or making the changes we desire.
We are impatient. We like instant gratification, but often change takes time. The speed of life has made this more apparent than ever. We want it now! And when we don’t get it fast enough, we get upset – with others, with ourselves, and with life in general.
There are 3 qualities that we need to bring to our actions to support the process of change. The first one is the willingness and courage to go beyond our comfort zone. When we begin to feel the anxiety, discomfort, or self doubt of trying something new, we need to become willing to stay with those feelings and engage with what we’re experiencing as a primary source that will allow us to direct change.
We must also bring to our actions the quality of self-awareness; not only of what we’re doing, but of our inner experiences. Self-awareness helps us understand our own motivations, and helps us see how we can get stuck in the mental traps and emotional habits that prevent us from taking the actions we need to take.
Finally, we need to bring to our actions a sense of surrender. I realize that word can be polarizing. In this context, it’s not meant as “I surrender! I give up!” It’s surrender in the realization that even though we must act and we must engage with change as it is happening, we must also appreciate the fact that we cannot always control it.
How do you usually relate to change? We often feel stuck in our old habits, and our familiar situations, and we fear that it might not be possible to change. We may want to change, but may give up as soon as we encounter resistance or setbacks. We may try to control what is uncontrollable, rather than looking at what it is that we can do to positively transform our experience.
We need to rethink how we relate to change. Here are some things to consider as you examine your own resistance to change.
The opposite of willingness and courage is resistance and fear. We tend to resist the change even when we know it will bring us closer to what we want and help us become the best version of ourselves. As we consider the change we’re focusing on, depending on what that is, it may in fact feel as though a part of us must “die” in order for this new change to take place. That perspective sees change from a place of scarcity, which generates more anxiety and fear which leads to resistance.
The counter to self-awareness is running on autopilot. When we react from our past experiences and emotions, we are simply engaging in a pattern that keeps us stuck and prevents us from accessing a higher level of awareness.
Finally, the antithesis of surrender is control. Oh, how we love to be in control of everything! But something happens when we give in to the realization that the only thing we can control is our response to the world around us. When we attempt to control change, we are in effect saying that unless things turn out exactly as we picture them in our mind, then it’s not right. But how often have you set a goal or intention, only to have things turn out better than you expected? Control takes away that option, and attempts to force things to fit our mold.
Look at any area of your life or leadership where you are working on change and meeting resistance. See it through the lens of compassionate change, and ask yourself if you are cultivating these three approaches. I think you’ll find that when you do, change may not be any easier, but it will absolutely be more productive and fulfilling in the long run.
Let me know how these three qualities impact you. Leave a comment below or send me an email. I love hearing from you, sharing your experiences, and learning how to better serve this community of leaders.
When was the last time you turned off all the noise? Shut it all off. Just went off the grid. Embraced silence…
I had that exact opportunity last week, and it was glorious!
We’re bombarded constantly by the bells, buzzes, and dings of our devices – cell phones, computers, tablets – you name it. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs, reacting to every sound from those devices with our rapt attention. We are so conditioned to react that we’ve seemingly lost the ability to make a conscious choice not to do so.
But what price are we paying? Most of us have read the research on our smartphones, and we know that they actually mimic the same addictive behaviors associated with drug use and gambling addictions. I’m not here to bash on smartphones. They have become invaluable tools – especially in the business world. I use mine to do business more than any other type of device, including my computer.
The challenge is not that we use them. It’s in not stopping. Putting them down. Turning them off. Reconnecting to ourselves.
Last week, I took my family on a spring break vacation cruise to Mexico. And, being somewhat frugal, I made the decision not to pay the extra money for all of us to have wifi access while on the ship. Okay, truth be told, I also had an agenda. I was anxious to get some face time with my teenage kids – without having to actually use FaceTime or Facebook! You know, like actually having conversations in “real life.” Crazy, right?
Well, here’s the thing. While on the ship, since we didn’t have wifi access, our phones became somewhat useless. So I put mine down. And what happened next was amazing.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.” – Anne Frank
Mornings were the best. I’m an early riser by practice, and am usually the first one up in my home each day. On the cruise, I went to the dining room and poured a cup of coffee, then sat on the deck of the ship listening to… well, everything. And nothing. It reminded me of why I began meditating about five years ago.
There is something almost magical and certainly rejuvenating about silence. We experience it so infrequently that we can be uncomfortable with it. We try to fill the silence with some type of noise. Music. TV. Games. Apps. You name it.
But when we take the time – even if only for a few minutes a day – to turn off the noise, put our cellphones down, and just live for a few moments in the silence, we find clarity. We find sanity. We find peace. We find ourselves.
So here’s my challenge to you: embrace more silence. Here’s why.
1. Silence has been shown to help relieve stress and tension. Studies have shown that unnecessary noise can lead to adverse health effects, including things such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It turns out that silence has the exact opposite effect, releasing tension in the brain and body. In fact, a 2006 study in the journal Heart, found that two minutes of silence is actually more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.
“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
– Blaise Pascal
2. Silence can help to replenish our mental resources. With all of the noise coming at us from so many different places, our brain’s attention centers are negatively impacted. The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain used for high-order thinking, logic, decision-making, and problem solving – becomes drained. This leads to distraction, mental fatigue, lack of focus, and an inability to effectively solve problems. The good news is that the brain can actually restore its cognitive resources when we are in environments with lower noise levels or silence.
3. In silence we can tap into the brain’s default mode networks. This means that in silence, we allow our brains to do some of the things that they’re designed to do. Things like daydreaming (see dad, I told you I was daydreaming with a purpose!), meditating, or simply letting our minds wander. All of these have restorative qualities to the brain. We tap into our inner thoughts, emotions, ideas, and memories. These things actually help us to be more creative, to empathize with others, and to make meaning from our experiences.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker
4. Silence can actually help regenerate brain cells. You read that right; silence can actually help grow the brain. In one study I’ve referenced in my workshops, the University of Massachusetts and Mass General Hospital conducted a study where 16 participants were asked to meditate for a minimum of 30 minutes a day (nothing else different in their daily routines). They each had fMRI’s done at the beginning and end of the study, and what scientists found was remarkable. After only 8 weeks (56 days) they found that every one of the subjects showed a marked increase in the size of their hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Not only that, each one showed a marked decrease in the size of their amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety, stress, and anger! Not bad for a 30 minute daily investment!
So there it is – the case for silence. I hope you take me up on this challenge. I’ve been meditating for some time now, and even I was surprised at the difference it made for me while off the grid. A good reminder for me as well. Silence truly is golden.
And, if you do take me up on this challenge, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you discover by adding just a few minutes of silence to your day. Wishing you the best of success!
Stop Believing Your Thoughts
If you’ve ever heard me speak at an event, or you’ve attended one of my many workshops, you’ve heard me talk about the fact that we as human beings are creatures of certainty; we’re creatures of habit.
And just as we have habits and rituals for the things that we do throughout each day, we also have habits of thinking. And sometimes those habits can get us in trouble if we’re not awake and aware.
In fact, let me ask you a question, “Are you thinking about what you’re thinking about?” I know, it seems like a strange question, doesn’t it? But the fact is that most of the time we’re just… we’re having thoughts throughout the day and we believe them simply because we think them.
Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say you’re driving down the freeway and someone inadvertently cuts you off. And you immediately think, “Oh, well this person did that to me. How dare they?!”
And so you might have a few choice words to offer them, and of course, a wave… maybe with all of your fingers, maybe with just a few key ones, to let them know that you really want them to have a nice day!
But how do you know that that’s what they did “TO YOU?” In fact, they may be just as embarrassed for having done that as you are angry at them for having cut you off.
You see most of the time we just simply believe our thoughts because we have them.
Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” But I think for all of us – myself included – all too often, we have these thoughts and we automatically believe them.
But here’s the thing, thoughts… we’re just talking to ourselves in our own heads. And in fact most of the time we’re just making stuff up!
So if you want to become more resilient, more resourceful, more emotionally fit, there are a few things I want you to start doing. And the first is: start questioning your thoughts. Stop believing them just because you have them.
And here’s some simple questions. Here’s 3 simple questions you can ask yourself to help you make a more discerning decision about what you’re thinking about.
The first one is, “Can I say that this thought is absolutely true? Do I know with absolute certainty that this thought I’m having is true?
And then, ask yourself this, “What might I be missing?” What information is just out of my purview? What other information do I need to get? Who can I talk to?
Maybe there’s a person in front of me that I’m having a dialogue with and I’m making up thoughts about what their meaning is, without actually asking them and checking in. What am I missing?
And then the final one is, “Am I causing pain or creating problems for myself and for the people around me simply by thinking this way?”
So that’s what I have for you today. Start to raise your level of awareness about your thinking; about the thoughts you’re having in the moment. And start asking yourself these questions.
I think you’ll find that if you start to question your thoughts it’s going to change your perspective. And it’s going to allow you to be more resourceful, to be more resilient, to be more emotionally fit, because you’re not just running on instinct, pattern, habit. You’re actually taking charge and taking control of your thoughts.
Thanks for being here and listening to my random thoughts! I would love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments below!
Kevin Ciccotti, CPCC, PCC, is an authority in helping leaders to build stronger, more sustainable relationships with their teams, helping them to drive engagement, increase productivity, and lead to greater overall success. He is passionate about helping leaders to create an environment in which their people can thrive and achieve their full potential. Read More...
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work