Apr 212012
 

You may recall that in a previous article*, someone prompted me to step back and examine my own pattern of behavior. Well, this time I managed to figure out something all by myself. I had been hemming and hawing about what to do about a particular situation. Last night, I woke up from a sound sleep. I sat up in bed and said to myself, “What exactly are you waiting for?”

Have you ever asked yourself the same question? Has there been something in your own life that you have repeatedly postponed. It seems to me that everyone has something they want to do in life, but it just never seems to be the “right time” to do it. It may be changing jobs, getting married, going back to school, having a baby, buying a house, or one of a million different decisions. There always seems to be a good reason to put if off. “I’ll just wait until after the holidays.” “I’ll start just as soon as I finish that big project at work.” “When I’ve saved a bit more money, I’ll be ready to jump right in.” “I’ll do it when I have more time.” Do you hear the open-ended nature of these responses? There is no deadline. In each of these cases, taking action may be postponed indefinitely. Actually, let’s call those statements what they really are: excuses. Each of these statements emanates from reasoning that is passive. The speaker is waiting for something else to happen. Action is required only after that something else has occurred.

The problem with living your life in a passive stance is that the world around you is not going to wait for your “right time.” Time does not stand still and neither does your life. A passive stance in an active world only results in someone or something else dictating the course of your life.

The notion that life should be lived passively is something that we learn as children. Anyone who has children, or works with them, will tell you that children are naturally egocentric. When a baby is born, all of his** needs seem immediate. If you do not change his diaper immediately, feed him when he is hungry, or dress him suitably for the weather, he begins to cry. He will not stop crying until his need is met. As he gets older, “no” may become his favorite word. Some might say this is simply a continuation of an infant’s egocentrism. I would venture to add that “No” may also be a learned response. Why? Because that child might often be told “No” regardless of whether he is voicing  a need, desire, or want. “No, you can’t have that.” “No, we can’t do that right now” “No, we’ll do it later.” What message is being sent to the child? “Your need will be postponed because it is less important than mine.” I have come across many parents who seemed to use “no” as a default response rather than out of necessity. Although the child in my example will benefit from understanding the importance of being patient and following rules, he also may learn the unintended lessons that authority figures make decisions haphazardly and someone else is in charge of determining when his need will be met.

When the child enters elementary school, he receives further training. His teacher tells him to follow the rules, to speak only when it is his turn, and his individual needs are less important than the need for group order. Again, these premises are good and necessary for conducting oneself in an orderly society. Yet, they are often taught with such fervor at home and at school that the child begins to wait for a signal from an authority figure that it is time for him to take action so that he can meet his own need. Consequently, a child who is a natural leader may learn to take charge of a situation only when approval is granted by an authority figure. It may take years for this child, who may potentially be a fantastic entrepreneur or dynamic corporate executive, to unlearn these lessons of postponement and conformity.

The damage done by internalization of the principles of conformity and postponement is compounded by another principle that is often taught by parents: “be safe and don’t fail.” Parents want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Additionally, children today are subjected to more pressure to succeed and excel than at any other point in history. Consequently, parents tend to teach their children to play it safe, take fewer risks, and not make mistakes. The internalization of this principle together with those of postponement and conformity may produce a child who learns to live in fear. That child also learns it is safer to allow someone else to make decisions because he cannot be held accountable for any failure that occurs as a result of the decision..

I like to the term this behavior as “passive decision making.” You make passive decisions by your own inactivity, passivity, and ambivalence in a particular situation. Passive decisions are often caused by the actions of others. They result from your decision to allow life to happen to you. Do you have a history of passive decision making? Do you wait for an authority figure to tell you when it is time to take action. Unfortunately, those who taught you in your youth have all retired. Your parents have lived their lives and cannot make life-changing decisions for you. Also, they have not changed their desire for you to avoid failure. Your friends are comfortable with the predictability of your actions (or inaction). Passive decision-making is especially problematic if you are a corporate executive, small business owner, or entrepreneur. Other people, and your livelihood, depend upon your ability to make decisions. Those around you may see you as a strong person with great creativity. Yet, you may feel weak and look for a signal from someone else as to when it is time for you to step-up and take action.

It is up to you to decide to abandon the principles of passivity, conformity, and living life without risks that you internalized as a child. You are the only one who will live your life and you are completely responsible for your own actions or inaction. No one else will be sorry that you did not act decisively at any particular time. You are the only one who can take charge and live the life you desire. It is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you each day.

My friend, today is the day to ask yourself: “What am I waiting for?” Decide that you will no longer be satisfied if life happens to you because of your passive decisions. Refuse to allow mundane tasks and your own inaction to dictate the course of your life. Set goals that will maximize your personal satisfaction and reach the new levels of success that you set in each of the five key areas of your life.*** Choose to be the captain of your own ship rather than allowing fate to seize the rudder from you and direct the course of your life!  

* please refer to Prioritizing Your Life is a Continual Process

** I am using the male pronoun for the sake of simplicity.

*** For more information about the five key areas of your life, please read The Personal Pinnacle Of Success: Defining Success and Climbing the Mountain on Your Own Terms

Copyright © 1998 – 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

This article (including the copyright notice) may be reprinted with the following the following attachment:

© 1998 – 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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Apr 212012
 

 Let’s take a moment and think of them.  Think of some of the excuses that you can drum up to keep from trying something new, taking a risk, or doing something to change your life:

  •                    Something may go wrong.

  •                    Things may not go the way that I planned.

  •                    I tried doing something once, and it didn’t work out.

  •                    Bad things could happen if I am unsuccessful, so I won’t try.

  •                    It might upset those around me if I change my behavior.

            The list of possibilities is endless. There are so many reasons why you should not take any risks in life – except for one thing.  Living in fear is not really living at all! 

            Fear is a natural response to any dangerous situation. Fear is something that children naturally possess.  The fear of strangers, the fear of falling, and the fear of the dark are all fears that are routinely found in children. Being fearful can have a protective effect on a child’s well being.  For example, being afraid of loud noises could prevent a child from fearlessly running into a dangerous situation. However, adults sometimes generalize this “protective intuition” into a fear of trying anything new because they do not want to fail or make a mistake.

            Most people who lead full, rich, and satisfying lives will validate that personal growth is a very important aspect of their lives.  If you are the same person at 40 years of age that you were when you were 20 years old, you may very well be bored, unhappy, and feel that your life has gone nowhere. That very well may be the case! Every day that you waste will not be replaced.  Just imagine how you would feel if you woke up one day and felt that you had wasted 20 years of your life!  Living in fear will prevent you from growing as a person.  If you constantly second guess yourself, focus on your mistakes, and think about the downside of any new situation, you will never voluntarily choose to move forward with your life.  It will be difficult for you to be a “self-starter” or make any changes in your life because you will be afraid of all the possible negative outcomes of your decision.

            The fear of making a mistake also results in another sad situation: it is very unlikely that you will take advantage of all the opportunities in your life that present themselves to you.  You may choose not to make a change in your career, take a promotion to a different type of job in the same company, enter into a new business venture, enter into a new relationship, or have a child.  These are just a few of the decisions that may be put off and put off until you can no longer take advantage of them. There are, in fact, many opportunities in life (e.g., a career change or having a child) for which there is never a “perfect time.”   Waiting for that time is really making a decision not to move forward with your life. The majority of the opportunities that we have in life (e.g., beginning a new relationship or entering into a new business venture) are time limited.  Therefore, your paralysis about whether or not to take advantage of an opportunity will simply result in that opportunity being lost.

            Many of my clients who have repeatedly failed to take advantage of opportunities (especially business opportunities that have later proved to be successful ventures for someone else) experience a sense of failure or depression.  “Why didn’t I do that” is a question that may nag at them for the rest of their lives.  These feelings can only lead to unhappiness and the belief that they have wasted large chunks of their lives. Unhappiness or general non-enjoyment of life can lead to a plethora of unintended consequences including poor health, severed relationships, and depression or anxiety.

            My message to you should be clear:  while it is important to carefully weigh the opportunities that are placed before you, choosing to live a “safe” life with few or no risks may also be a choice to live a frustrating and unhappy life.  A certain amount of risk-taking is an important part of any full and successful life. Yes, there will be times that you fail.  Yes, there will be times when you wish you had made another decision.  Yes, hindsight may prove that waiting for a different opportunity would have been a better decision. However, each of your decisions that result in a successful experience will give you a general sense of happiness about your life.  They will also open more successful opportunities to you in the future.

            There are endless reasons to not act on a hunch, seize an opportunity, or live each day to the fullest.  However, the lost opportunities and the lack of enjoyment of your life will far and away outweigh any risk that you may choose to take.  When in doubt, just remember: living in fear is not really living at all!

 Copyright © 2000 – 2011 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

 

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Mar 142012
 

In “Avoidance May Actually Be An Opportunity In Disguise (Part 1)”, I talked about how mundane tasks are often avoided out of fear and/or boredom. What about those unpleasant encounters that you would like to avoid at your work place? Have you avoided a discussion with your boss about one of the aspects of your job that you would like to change? How about confrontations with your employees? Possibly, you have avoided introducing a client to a new idea or product. Each of these avoidance situations is really an opportunity to become more successful!

Employees frequently are reluctant to discuss new ideas with their employers. This reluctance stems not only from the fear that their idea will be rejected, but also out of their fear of being ridiculed. “What a stupid idea,” your boss will say. Really? If your boss rejects ideas in that manner, perhaps it is time to look for a new job! More than likely, your boss will take part or all of your idea and seriously consider implementing it. In most companies, managers have become managers because they are assertive, were successful in previous work-related positions, or have focused their talents and energies on the success of the company. Managers are (or should be) constantly looking for new ideas! That’s also true for company assistant vice presidents, vice presidents, presidents, and CEOs. Anyone in a position of authority and responsibility within a business entity should always be interested in ways and ideas that can make the company more successful and profitable.

Have you been avoiding a confrontation with an employee? One client recently told me about his difficulty in dealing with subordinates who seem to enjoy being confrontational or challenging her authority. We talked about her approach to dealing with such employees. She consistently went head-to-head with these people trying to match their level of energy. Although she always won each battle, she felt that she was losing the war. “I’m tired,” she said, “and sometimes I just feel like taking the day off.” The problem wasn’t that she disliked her job. It was that the confrontations consumed all her time and depleted her energy. I suggested that she consider using a different strategy for interacting with difficult employees. Instead of coming to logger heads, she should try to listen to what the employee is saying. Then, she should reframe what was said in the most positive light possible from her point of view.

Another approach is based on the notion that most people have patterns of interaction. An employee may begin with a minor complaint and continue complaining until everyone in the entire corporate hierarchy is miserable and tired of hearing from him or her. Why not put him or her to work changing the situation? For example, try responding to an employee’s complaint by saying, “OK Nick, if you see a problem here, then I want you to come up with three strategies to solve it.” Not only will Nick stop complaining to you, but he may just come up with a new and more productive solution, to a problem that you didn’t even know existed in the first place! Regardless of why a confrontation with an employee has occurred, the next step should be to consider changing the process that underlies your future interactions with that person.

The biggest problem for most business people is introducing new ideas and products to clients. After all, the client holds the power in most situations. He or she can reject your idea on a whim or without any basis. The easiest thing for you is not to make the pitch in the first place. After all, it is difficult to face rejection from a client after you have put forth the effort which is necessary to design and implement a fantastic presentation. I must admit that I have experienced this problem in my own life. As a novice therapist, I sometimes was hesitant to suggest a new behavior pattern to a client because I “knew” that my suggestion would be rejected. As I have become more experienced, I like to think that I have also become more fearless. If the worst thing that can happen is that the client will say “no,” then I am no worse off than before. What I have discovered is that “no” often leads to a very interesting discussion spawned by my follow-up question: “Why not?” Although you cannot just ask a business client “why not,” you can move past the first “no” and explore how you and your product or service can be helpful to the client. Possibly, there is an alternative use of your product or service. Maybe they will be more useful to the potential buyer in a few months. You might even uncover a suggestion as to how you could improve your product to better meet the needs of others. Whatever the response, there can be a positive outcome. If you avoid the interaction altogether, it can only result in maintaining the status quo which is really a failure to move forward. Each interaction with a client can be viewed as an opportunity for success, even though it may not be the same type of successful outcome that you had originally intended.

Now is the time to examine your patterns of avoidance with others in the work place. By implementing a proactive stance with others, you may help turn your avoidance into a successful opportunity to improve your company or career.

© 1998-2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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© 1998-2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Mar 142012
 

Here is the question that was sent to “Ask Dr. Rempel” at susan@uncommoncourtesy.com : “How do you keep your dreams and goals alive in the face of adversity and depression?”

A Sense of Purpose

          The question from our subscriber is one that is commonly asked of motivational coaches.  Everyone has dreams. You may have formulated achievable goals based upon your dreams. However, you will undoubtedly face stumbling blocks (both internal and external) enroute to realizing your goals.  Therefore, the question arises as to how you can maintain a focus on and move toward your goals when you encounter an obstacle?

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the question is that the questioner noted that it is difficult for her to move toward her goals “in the face of adversity and depression.” I have met many people who will encounter an obstacle, feel frustrated and depressed, and then give up. Why do they give up so easily? Most motivational “experts” will talk about feelings of depression stemming from a lack of focus. I suggest, instead, that obstacles may sidetrack a person from achieving his or her goals, and indeed cause a sense of frustration to arise on the road toward achieving those goals, for two reasons. First, the goals you have set are arbitrary, and second, you may not have defined a sense of purpose in your life.

          Most of us have thought about the direction in which we want our lives to flow.  Common aspirations include becoming well-known and earning a significant income. The question is, however, will those goals cause us to have a sense of fulfillment with our lives? One of my favorite authors, Dennis Prager, said in his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual

that in order to be happy, a person must have both personal meaning and believe that life itself is meaningful. I agree with that premise and would add that feeling satisfied with one’s life directly corresponds to having a sense of purpose in life and moving toward goals that are connected to the person’s mission in life.

How did you develop the goals that you have set forth for yourself? All too often people develop their goals with the underlying belief that they will be satisfied if they achieve a certain amount of money and power. Consider three titles of junk email that recently arrived in my mailbox:  “Have a six figure income in 30 days”, “earn $100 to $1500 per day”, and “are you serious about making money?” Those ads were designed to appeal to the person who believes that having a sufficient amount of money will give meaning to his or her life. In reality, money can make your life more comfortable, but it will not give it meaning. It’s more than likely that when you continue to search for a sense of fulfillment even after you reach your monetary goal, you will decide that a true sense of satisfaction has eluded you only because you did not set your goal high enough. Unfortunately, It is unlikely that you will ever feel that your life has meaning, no matter how much money you have.

Another goal that you may have set for yourself is to become the president, CEO, or leader of something. This goal may also carry little meaning because you will probably feel only momentary satisfaction once you have reached it.  People who reach this type of goal often go on to aspire to control and direct an even larger enterprise or entity. The problem with both of the goals discussed above is that they carry little meaning in and of themselves. They carry little meaning because they do not enhance your sense of purpose. 

What is your mission in life? The objective of acquiring money and power is no different from a child’s desire to collect and control all the tokens in a game of jacks. Those may be goals that you set as part of a master plan for living a successful life. However, you must also ask yourself what you can do to make a difference for others.  What or who will be changed by your presence after your life has ended? How can you positively impact your family, your community, and the society in which you live? There is no time to lose! Life is indeed a gift that has been bestowed upon you, and it is imperative for you to make the most out of each day that you spend here on Earth.  Now is the time to define your sense of purpose and pursue it to the fullest.