It's that time of year again. An opportunity to consider what matters most to you as you chart your journey ahead. A time to reflect upon what kind of person you truly want to be as the year progresses. Your chance to choose what colors you want in your life.
Is there anything in your life you would like to change? Perhaps a habit? Or a goal that you want to accomplish that you believe will make your life better in some tangible ways? Or to change a behavior or mindset that no longer is serving you well? I have yet to meet a person who is 100% satisfied with everything in their life. We all have dreams, desires, hopes for something better, to improve some area of our lives, to move forward toward a more preferred future.
All of my coaching clients hire me because, though they are already successful people, they have areas they want to work on and move forward and improve--whether it's developing greater clarity about a job transition, or developing more effective leadership skills, or identifying some personal dreams that they want to pursue to bring more fulfillment and meaning to their already busy lives, or to design a more purposeful and effective spiritual path that brings them greater peace and a sense of groundedness and life balance, or to improve their most important relationships.
In all these cases, one of the issues I emphasize is momentum. Life change develops most effectively when momentum is increased. In other words, once you begin the process of change (whatever the change is) building forward movement toward where you're wanting to go is crucial to both initiating change and establishing effective and long term change. Momentum.
In fact, one of my clients--an executive in a fast-growing firm in the finance industry--hired me (after interviewing multiple coaches) precisely because I used the word "momentum" in describing what my work with clients is designed to build. That's exactly what he was wanting for his life.
So let me suggest 3 specific steps you should take to build momentum for the things you want to change or accomplish in your life that truly matter to you.
Step 1: Identify What You Really Want
Setting very specific intentions (goals) is the first crucial step. Make it clear. And make sure it is an authentic expression of your deep desires. Focus first on the feeling you're wanting to experience that this change or goal will produce.
Why start with your feelings? Because feelings are more powerful intentions than simple behaviors. Feeling actually drive actions. You choose certain behaviors because--if you were to truly analyze it--you want to feel a certain way. Right? So start with the feeling you want.
Then choose behaviors that will get you to that feeling. Specific actions.
Don't get fixated on one specific action. Truth is, multiple actions can produce the same feeling you're desiring. Hold tactics (actions) with an open hand. If one isn't working for you, change to another one. Emphasize the feeling.
Step 2: Break Your Steps Down Into Small, Doable Increments
Sometimes we're tempted to think too big. And then we get overwhelmed because the goal looms large over our heads. And then we're tempted to give up.
Successful people know how to break their steps into small increments that are doable on a regular basis.
One of my clients recently, in describing his goal and the process he was using to get there, put it in a very profound way:
"What can I do today to shift the needle by tomorrow?"
I like his emphasis. The word "shift" isn't talking about some huge, quantum leap forward. It's a small, even slight movement.
Keep it small and simple. All you're looking for is a shift in the needle day by day.
Step 3: Take Steps Regularly & Religiously
This is the strategy to building effective momentum. Consistency.
Jim Collins, in one of the most widely read business and productivity books in the last 13 years, Good To Great, calls this process the fly wheel principle. When at first you try to push a huge flywheel, you meet lots of resistance. It's difficult. Laborious. But you keep pushing and turning the flywheel. With great effort you keep pushing. And with every push and spin, the flywheel begins to pick up momentum. If you stay with this process, ultimately its momentum becomes a self sustaining power that moves it forward, on and on.
"Good to great comes about by a cumulative process--step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel--that adds up to sustained and spectacular results." (p. 165)
The amazing thing is that often onlookers, who see what you've accomplished, think you've gotten there in one big step. They're impressed and in awe. They congratulate you. They want to know the secret of your success so they ask, "What was the one big push that caused you to get here so fast?"
But those of us doing this kind of work know that that is a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No!
"It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave--no matter how large--reflects a small fraction of the entire cumulative effective upon the flywheel." (p. 165)
Summary. Three nonnegotiable steps to creating the kind of momentum that gets you where you want to go: 1) clearly identify what you really want and how you want to feel, 2) break your steps down into small, doable increments, 3) and take those steps regularly and religiously (keep turning the flywheel and don't stop).
One of the great rewards of my work is creating the space for people where they can engage in this process, giving them accountability and encouragement every step of the way, and then seeing them create the kind of life they truly want.
I see it every time: after pushing on that flywheel in a consistent direction over an extended period of time, they inevitably hit a point of breakthrough. Change happens. Transformation. And they begin experiencing the joy of living the life they truly want, the one that matters most to them.
Action: If you would like to have a short phone conversation with me about how this could work for you with something that you're feeling the need to address in your life, email me and I'll work out a time to visit. It could set up the breakthrough you're really looking for.
Looking for a Speaker or Coach?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at email@example.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.
Have you noticed that most of our new year's resolutions center around stated behaviors, action steps, goals? It certainly makes some sense - after all, we're trying to engage in actions that are important to us. But often times, we don't ask the next set of questions. What is it we're hoping those actions will help us feel? What do we truly want to feel as we go through our lives this year?
Stop and think about it. What you're really wanting when you set a goal is a certain way of feeling. Right?
We choose to engage in certain actions and behaviors (we establish goals and intentions) because we really want to feel something specific and good. Underneath every goal is a desired feeling.
For example, one of my goals is to increase my public speaking engagements this year. Why? Just to do more speaking? I do get a lot of joy and fulfillment from public speaking! But there's a deeper issue. Because I want to feel significant. I want to feel enthralled (which comes from using my strengths in a broader setting that puts me in my "zone," my wheelhouse of abilities). I want to feel like I'm making an increasingly bigger difference in the world, in people's lives.
And as it turns out, it's our feelings that are actually the most powerful drivers behind our aspirations.
The Neuroscience Behind Feelings
Here's how: the brain pathways for emotions make their way directly to the areas that generate attention (and vice versa). In other words, the way we feel - and our choices to feel certain emotions - can powerfully direct our attention. And where we direct our attention produces that outcome - our brains automatically begin developing a map ("motor maps/action plans") for how to make that happen. Attention is what brings to life our intentions.
For example, people who are anxious are more prone to identifying anxiety-provoking or fearful things than people who are not. What's the outcome?
"What I often tell people is that when they spend their lives in dread, they are writing an invitation to the feared outcome rather than preventing it." (Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear, p. 55, by Dr. Srinivasan S. Pillay, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and executive coach)
The point is, the reverse holds equally true. When you choose to focus on positive feelings, you activate your attention which in turn activates your intention. Feelings are the most powerful drivers behind our aspirations.
My Practice of Focusing on Feeling Words
So here's what I've been doing the last few years:
Step one: I look at a list of feeling words and allow any of those words to jump out at me. Which ones are speaking to me right now? Which ones seem to be calling out to me - feelings that I'm wanting to feel more deeply than others this year? I make a list of 3-5 feeling words. If your list is longer, go through that list and keep narrowing it down until you reach 3-5.
Here's the list I use: Feeling Words
Step two: I write a one-two sentence definition of each word. By specifying a definition, I'm bringing greater clarity to why this feeling word is really resonating with me. And the more clarity I have, the more targeted and powerful my attention is and therefore the more possible my intention becomes.
Questions to ask: What does this word really mean to me? What does the word feel like? What are examples of this feeling word? Why is it valuable to me? Why do I want to feel this way this year? What is it about this word that is calling out to me?
Step three: I make a list of 3-5 accomplishments (intentions) for each feeling word that I believe if I engage in them will help me feel that way. And I like to break those intentions down like this (thanks to blogger Danielle LaPorte for this idea):
Three things I will do today to generate these feelings; Three things I will do this week to generate these feelings; Three things I will do this quarter to generate these feelings.
Step four: I share my list with several trusted people a) so I can stay focused - sharing deepens impact, and b) so I can have accountability with my process as the year goes by.
What I Want to Feel More Of in 2014
Here's the way my list turned out for 2014 (in case some of this might stimulate your creativity): MY 2014 FEELING WORDS
Every time I read my list of words, my inner spirit jumps up, I feel real positive energy inside, and hope increases as I anticipate the year. It's keeping me focused on what's most important to me. And I can already tell these feelings, and my attention on them, are driving forward my intentions.
I challenge you to do this process, too. And let me know what your feeling words are for 2014.
Looking for a Speaker or Coach?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] According to every spiritual tradition, we as humans, human nature, are divided – we are divided against ourselves (our truest Self), and we are divided against the Divine. This lack of unity is in fact more characteristic of our “normal” reality than our Essential unity.
Understanding this division in us is crucial to recovering our Essential Self and becoming the people we were made by God to be, where we experience the highest level of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. The process of spirituality is about recovering and reclaiming our true Self and re-connecting with God.
According to the experts, we all are seeking specific needs to be met (based upon our upbringing and subsequent woundings). And there are primary underlying feelings associated with each of those needs. This primary need with its underlying feeling is what tends to drive us and motivate us – it describes how our ego tends to manifest itself when it doesn’t get its need met. And therefore knowing this helps to give understanding about what we’re battling against and what we need to deal with in order to learn how to live out of our true Self.
OUR CHIEF EGO IMBALANCES AND DEFENSES
Let's look a bit more closely at this triangle of circles so we understand what it's describing. There are three basic needs that all of us tend to gravitate toward and seek more of: autonomy (the need to protect our "personal space," to be given our freedom, and maintain a felt sense of self), attention (the need to be validated in meaningful ways, to feel valued, to maintain a personal identity), and security (the need to find a sense of inner guidance and support, to be able to know the future clearly enough to survive and be cared for). Each circle then reveals the default response or defense mechanism that kicks in when that specific need isn't met adequately: no autonomy ... anger and aggression manifest either toward self or others; no attention ... feelings of being unvaluable, shame, a sense of being defective are manifested; and no security ... feelings of insecurity and fear emerge.
According to experts, we all experience all of these at various times, in various ways, and with varying intensities. But we tend to have a primary default - our most common, easy-to-go-to, natural defense mechanism when our primary need isn't met. These responses are the "artificial fillers" of our personality - imitations - ways we try to get our needs met that are not flowing from our Essential Self but rather from our wounded self. So rather than helping us, they actually hinder us from receiving what we really want and need. This causes the lack of internal and external unity all spiritual traditions describe human nature experiencing. So every tradition has developed various spiritual practices that help a person come to greater alignment and congruence with their True Self - tools to practice, disciplines to engage in that facilitate spiritual development toward becoming the people God designed for us to be. Spirituality, then, is the intentional process of becoming who you truly are (your Essential Self) rather than the imitation. Spirituality is about your true Self connecting with God and reaching your ultimate potential as a child of God.
APPLICATION: Circle the word in any of the three circles which you feel most protective of in your life right now, or most defensive of – your gut reaction. Which word describes what drives you the most – what you’re truly seeking and feeling as you go through life’s experiences these days.
A Contemporary Story
Let's notice how these dynamics are played out and experienced in the story Gran Torino which came out in 2008. The movie Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood, describes the weather-beaten yet poignant story of Walt Kowalski, an aging retired auto worker at Ford Motor Company in the now industrial graveyard of Detroit. In the beginning, the film has the feel of a requiem. Melancholy is etched in every long shot of Detroit’s decimated, emptied streets and in the faces of those who remain to still walk in them.
Sort of like Walt’s life. A veteran of the Korea War of the 1950s, Walt has been watching his “world” drastically change through the years into something he hardly recognizes much less feels a kinship with. Everything to him is falling apart all around – the neighborhood has been taken over by “aliens,” foreigners – “Chinks-Gooks-Swamp Rats” he shamelessly calls all of them, no matter what country they’re from in Asia. In reality, his neighbors are Hmong, the hill tribe people in Laos who allied with the US troops during the Vietnam war and then had to flee when the North Vietnamese took over. Many of them fled to the US and settled in communities like Walt’s. But to him, they’re still the “enemy” who don’t belong here!
He has just buried his wife and he’s basically estranged from his two sons and their families who have come to “put up” with a father and grandfather who seems crude, gruff, and uncaring. So he pretty much lives his life alone with his dog Daisy.
And alone with the central metaphor of Walt’s life, his cherished pride – a pristine 1972 Ford Gran Torino. He has invested all of his desires in this car – it represents to him the best days – the past – when life was more predictable, more secure, more unified, more white, success was everywhere, everyone had a chance to make it if you just worked hard enough. The glory days. People were patriotic then! Like he has hanging on his porch, everyone flew the Stars and Stripes to show their pride in life and country. So he pours himself into keeping his Gran Torino in spotless, perfect condition. It’s his refuge from the painful, disorienting reality of this new world. And it’s his artificial filler, his imitation self.
Interestingly enough, the writers of this movie have portrayed Walt as the Everyman who represents all of us in some ways. His ego defenses are being threatened – he’s desperately seeking SECURITY (the safe and predictable and comfortable ways of the past). But the changes in his personal life (losing his wife, estranged from his kids, and isolated from his Ford company past) and the radical changes in his environment (the gangs terrorizing the neighborhoods, the foreigners with their strange and distasteful customs who have moved in next door and up and down HIS street) have all threatened this security. So he’s reacting in FEAR – inside he’s not sure how to really cope with FEAR – so he defaults to what he knows best: prejudice, resentment, portraying a gruff, swearing, beer-guzzling, smoking hardass to everyone (including his family).
He’s also desperately seeking AUTONOMY – just leave me alone and let me live my own life! Don’t try to tell me what to do or manipulate me or try to control my future (if you’re my kids and grandkids)! Don’t encroach on my space! Get out of my yard and my life!! So he threatens his neighbors away from his yard no matter what their acts of attempted kindness and neighborliness; he threatens the gangs by pointing his Korean War U.S. Army-issued rifle in their faces; he growls and scowls at his kids and refuses to engage; he berates and castigates the local Catholic priest who keeps coming by to check on him because of a promise he made to Walt’s wife before she died. His anger pushes him and empowers him to shove everyone away.
But in very poignant ways shown in the story, Walt also seeks ATTENTION – deep inside he doesn’t want to be alone, he simply doesn’t know how to go about connecting meaningfully. He’s being driven by SHAME, which is ultimately unveiled in the movie when he finally reveals his painful war-time past. The images of killing young enemy soldiers continues haunting him like ghosts from his past. And as he gets older, he begins to realize that he’s failed as a parent, too – he’s treated his kids poorly and now he’s reaping the consequences of estrangement. He’s a prisoner to his feelings of shame and doesn’t know how to get free. So the only way he knows how to get ATTENTION is by being gruff and difficult and downright mean at times.
Walt Kowalski has built some strong, powerful defenses to his ego. He’s really alone and in slavery to his misguided attempts to experience life – he’s caught up in the only way he knows how – and in a sense, he’s simply living out his life until he dies a very lonely and angry old man. Every once in a while, he breaks into a coughing fit and begins to see blood coughed up. After finally going to a clinic for blood tests, he informed he’s dying of lung cancer. With no one really around him anymore because he’s driven them all way, he’s having to face an isolated and painful ending.
Is there any hope for a man like Walt Kowalski? Is the Gran Torino all there is? Here-in lies the power of this contemporary story, especially in light of this Season's theme of death and resurrection.
APPLICATION: So go back to the word you circled in one of the three circles. Spend a few moments reflecting on why you chose that word. What examples in your life or in your experiences illustrate that word for you? How is that word manifesting for you? What’s the “Gran Torino” in your life that you’re using to protect your ego and that represents the “safe place” or default for you?
In my next blog post, we'll take a look at what it is that ultimately brings Walt Kowalski to a kind of personal transformation and how that applies to our lives, especially in our spiritual journey of alignment and development into who we were meant to be.