success

Why Your Life Metaphor Matters and What To Do About It

Why Your Life Metaphor Matters and What To Do About It

I'm learning that living life well is so much about expectations; and expectations are shaped by how you view life.  Your mental picture about what life is and is supposed to be really determines your life experience.  If you have a faulty view, you end up with a faulty life.  Your experience matches your picture. 

Why You Must Feel Free to Fail If You Want a Successful Life

I grew up in a fairly traditional religious family.  We took life pretty seriously—not in the sense of being morose or pessimistic; I had a very happy and positive childhood—but more in the sense of always wanting to do your best, to try to get and give the best out of life and not just float along.

The Stories You Tell Yourself Matter: Four Steps To Developing An Empowering Narrative

The Stories You Tell Yourself Matter:  Four Steps To Developing An Empowering Narrative

You and I become the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our personal narratives. Here are four steps to developing the right, most empowering narrative.

The Indispensable Practice of Successful People: If You're Not Doing This, You Need To!

The Indispensable Practice of Successful People:  If You're Not Doing This, You Need To!

Success is a double-edged sword.  It produces great things.  But it also exacerbates busyness and over stimulation.  The pressures and demands increase dramatically with success.  And the proverbial “burning the candles at both ends” becomes more and more a reality with painful consequences. What have many successful people learned to do about this?

It's Time To Get Over Our Perfectionism: How To Take A Lesson From Baseball

Ty CobbsBaseball's Lesson It's fascinating to look at the sport of baseball and notice the greatest hitters in the history of the game---you can't help but see something profound immediately.  The all-time best hitter, Ty Cobb, had a career batting average of .366.  No one has been able to reach that level in a career before or since.  That's .366 out of .1000.

What this means is that over 6 out of every 10 times Cobb got up to bat, he went out.  And he's considered the greatest.

Which begs the questions, why is it that our expectations for baseball are so radically different than our expectations for ourselves and everyone else in the rest of life?

The Commissioner of Baseball in 1991, Francis T. Vincent, Jr., made this astute observation:

"Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.  We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often---those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players.  I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth."

Ironic--that errors are part of it's rigorous truth.  Almost oxymoronic.  But refreshing and true.

Institutionalized Perfectionism

I grew up in a Church that rigorously fights an ongoing war against failure.  Error is seen as a lack of spirituality and trust in God.  If you simply trusted God more, you would overcome your tendency to "strike out" when you stepped up to the plate of life.  With God's help, you can get better and better at hitting the ball whenever you're up to bat.  And before the world ends, God expects you to hit home runs or at least hit safely every time you're up.

There's a word for this view:  perfectionism.

For the most part in my life, I played the game pretty successfully.  I knew the rules inside and out and was quite accomplished at fulfilling and living up to them well.  I certainly received a lot of accolades for how successful I was, at least on the outside of my life--which is the only side of anyone people can really see, right?

So when you live in a perfectionist culture where mistakes and failures aren't accepted as the norm, there's intense pressure to measure up to the highest standard in order to feel good enough.  Self worth becomes built upon performance.

Without realizing it, my sense of self was being constructed on a shaky foundation.  I had to make sure I was successful and didn't fail; I had to constantly prove my worth by my performance.  So if you're one of those lucky ones, like I was, who is able to be really productive within the accepted measurements, you're rewarded---you get praise and positive attention from others and therefore you can give yourself the same.

Until the big failure and fall.  And I had it.  Epic.  My whole world collapsed around me.  And in one fell swoop I was on the outside, no longer seen as successful, all my past accomplishments wiped off the slate of institutional memory.

Unlike baseball's radical paradigm in which the player steps up to the plate and strikes out, still maintaining his beloved stature as the valued and famed hitter even though he goes out 6 out of every 10 times---in my world it was, one big strike and you're out, for good.

Identity and Self Acceptance

Beyond the pain of the institutional response to me, my biggest personal challenge suddenly became, Now that I've blown it big time, what is my identity, where do my feelings of worth and value come from without that great reputation?  Can I accept myself even in the midst of failure?  Or am I simply a loser forever from now on?

My road back to a sense of deep personal acceptance and worth was long and difficult.  But in the end, the opportunity to build my sense of self on a much more stable foundation, than the shaky one of performance and perfection, was the most important outcome that could have ever happened to me.  It has given me a sense of confidence, security, and acceptance of myself in powerfully authentic ways like never before.

Perhaps baseball has a lot to teach us about life.  Like the Commissioner observed, errors are part of the game and perfection is an impossible and unrealistic and not even expected goal.  No player ever bats .1000 in a career.  Ever.

So the ongoing questions for me in my life is that whenever I make mistakes (and I do, often), whenever I don't live up to my values in even small ways, whenever I try something and make a mess of it, whenever I feel the need to present myself to others as all together, whenever I am tempted not to feel good enough unless I do it all perfectly--whenever I'm faced with these moments, can I still feel a sense of value, acceptance, and okayness and refuse to place my worth in judgment?

A Spirituality of Imperfection

What would happen if we built our view and experience of spirituality on imperfection rather than perfection, that we would stop expecting no mistakes or failures and start expecting errors as a natural part of the game of life?

Would it mean that we would simply compromise away our values?  Would it mean we're simply trying to rationalize and justify our mistakes?  Would it mean that we would be embracing an "anything goes" philosophy, that it wouldn't matter any more if we failed or made mistakes, no matter how many people we hurt along the way?

That's certainly not the way it's worked with me.  Re-establishing my sense of self and building it on the foundation of the reality of imperfection, and learning how to embrace myself in the midst of failure, has in fact increased my value for healing and wholeness, for showing up in the world in ways that elicit deeper trust and joy in others.

But I have done this on the unshakable foundation of self acceptance, not for how successful I am or am not, but for who I am as a child of God---fully loved and deeply accepted as I am, not as I should be.

When I get clear on this truth, I am much more empowered to grow, to take risks on my journey of transformation, knowing that when I step up the plate and strike out or ground out or hit a fly ball and go out, I'm still a perfectly loved and valued person who belongs on the team of life. My place is secure.

That freedom motivates me to be my best, to know who I am in every situation and live it out with confidence and courage, even if I don't do it just right every time.  Because the fear of failure has been removed.  I even allow myself to expect it from myself.

"Errors, of course, are part of the game.  They are part of our truth as human beings.  To deny our errors is to deny ourself, for to be human is to be imperfect, somehow error-prone.  To be human is to ask unanswerable questions, but to persist in asking them, to be broken and ache for wholeness, to hurt and to try to find a way to healing through the hurt.  To be human is to embody a paradox, for according to that ancient vision, we are 'less than the gods, more than the beasts, yet somehow also both.'  Spirituality begins with the acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is:  There is no one to 'blame' for our errors--neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything else.  Spirituality helps us first to see, and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the very core of our human be-ing."  (The Spirituality of Imperfection:  Storytelling and the Search for Meaning, Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, p. 2)

What this means is that we stop theologizing and religionizing perfection and imperfection.  Instead, we learn to embrace our humanity without negative judgment, simply what is.  And we allow ourselves to go on the journey of life with patience as well as resolve to become more and more whole, while living with our cracks.  And we ramp up our courage to actually admit, "Nobody's perfect.  Neither am I.  And that's okay.  I'm still valued and loved and accepted as I learn to grow and develop into my healthiest self.  I belong on the Team."

If I can do this, I can then step up and, using all of my growing skill and wisdom, boldly and freely swing away.  I can let it rip more often because whether I hit it out of the park or into a fielder's waiting glove I am still loved and deeply accepted in who I am as a valued child of the universe, to myself and to God.  Period.  I'm on the Team.

Next time I'll talk about some of the significant implications of the spirituality of imperfection and building on this unshakeable foundation of Self.  Stay tuned.

A Secret Ingredient for Spiritual Success

I read last week a fascinating New York Times article titled "Secret Ingredient for Success."  The authors interviewed highly successful people about what made them successful and discovered one common element.  The discovery was surprising--somewhat even counter-intuitive.  Beyond their natural talent and skill, their personalities, their strengths, their passionMagnifying Lens and vision, how hard they worked, their success came from this quality:  intentional, regular, rigorous self reflection.  Self assessment.  Self evaluation. It's called double loop learning.

"In this mode we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals."  (Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield)

It got me thinking about the way so many people go through life.  We just kind of float along, going with the flow, never really reflecting or thinking about life, trying to avoid obstacles as much as possible, taking the easy path as often as we can, the path of least resistance.

And even with our spirituality.  We tend to rarely think about it.  We just do whatever it is we've always done, never really evaluating or reflecting about it, whether or not we're learning anything new, or whether or not it's actually changing us into better people.  We just slide by spiritually.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

I was especially reminded of the power of this value of self reflection last weekend.  I conducted the first of three weekend retreats called "Ignite the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."  Our small group spend a total of 10 hours doing rigorous self-assessment and evaluation.  The purpose of this process was to give each person an opportunity to take stock of their spiritual life to determine what is working effectively and meaningfully and what isn't.

And we engaged within community--not just doing personal reflection but also sharing some of our reflections with each other.  The process of hearing and listening and being heard and listened to is extremely powerful.  When people are willing to hold the space for us as we do our work in a way that's safe and affirming and accepting, we are empowered to grow and transform in beautiful ways.

One of the participants texted me the next day and said, "Thank you for a breakthrough life-changing retreat--my spiritual life is already better ... Can't wait to see what more there is to come and I know it will be very good."

That's the impact of healthy and effective self reflection.  It comes from being willing to be intentional.  To pay attention to your life, your spirituality.  To do it honestly, authentically, transparently, participatively.

Most wisdom traditions agree on the process for enlightenment and spiritual wholeness.  Confucianism describes it as becoming fully awake, waking up to life, seeing life clearly.  According to the Li Chi, the classic Confucian guide to becoming spiritually developed,

"there must be a turning point in life when the maturing individual recognizes that simply being a human is not sufficient to becoming fully human."

Spiritual maturity is not an automatic occurrence.  We can't slide into spirituality.

Jesus called that conscious turning point in one's life repentance.  "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  It begins with awareness, waking up to our need.  It continues with desire, seeing something better--something more--that we want.  It involves an intentional turning around to chart a new path to receive that Life.  "Wake up so you can experience the depths of God's kingdom that is right in front of you, indeed, right inside of you," said Jesus.

LampOne of the poignant stories Jesus told was of the ten bridesmaids waiting through the midnight hours for the appearance of the groom.  All of them had lamps.  Five of them had enough oil for the lamps to keep burning through the night.  So that when the groom finally showed up, they were awake to be swept up into the wedding party and join the festivities.  The other five missed out.  No light.  Sleepy.

Light.  Wakefulness.  Clarity.  Awareness.

Some of the markers Dr. David Benner, in his book Soulful Spirituality, describes as identifying a mature spirituality include

"being grounded in reality and alive to the present moment, a personal philosophy that makes life meaningful, the capacity for forgiveness and letting go, inner freedom of choice and response, the capacity for reflection on experience."  (p. 35)

These qualities don't just suddenly show up in our lives.  They're developed.  We awaken to them through reflection, intention, attention.  Like the five wise bridesmaids, we stock up on enough oil, we trim our lamps, light them, and use them to become fully awake to what's happening inside us and around us.  We repent.

I'm planning two more spiritual retreat cycles this Winter/Spring; one in San Francisco again (April 5-6), and another in Walla Walla, Washington (March 22-23).  Here's the link for the details:  "Ignite the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."  If you want a powerful opportunity to engage in awakening your spiritual life in new and transformational ways, I invite you to check out these events.  It could be a turning point for you.

The two authors of the above New York Times article interviewed tennis great Martina Navratilova to find out the secret of her ultimate success:

"[She] told us that after a galling loss to Chris Evert in 1981, she questioned her assumption that she could get by on talent and instinct alone. She began a long exploration of every aspect of her game. She adopted a rigorous cross-training practice (common today but essentially unheard of at the time), revamped her diet and her mental and tactical game and ultimately transformed herself into the most successful women’s tennis player of her era.  What we learned from conversation with high achievers is that challenging our assumptions, objectives, at times even our goals, may sometimes push us further than we thought possible."

I wonder why so many of us fail to engage in this kind of rigorous self reflection and self evaluation in such a vital area of life, our spirituality?  Maybe it's because we simply don't know how to go about doing that.  Maybe we're afraid of failing or not achieving anything different than what we already have.  Maybe we just don't think about it--we're simply too busy or distracted by the rest of life.  Or maybe it's just not that important or appealing to us.

But maybe it is time to shine the light.  Time for the secret ingredient.  Time to awaken.  Fully alive instead of sleepwalking.  The best way to success and joy!

Attending to the Inner Critic

The Inner Critic We all have one.  It's that voice so often speaking inside our heads that makes judgements about us.  Sometimes it takes the tone and sound of one of our parents or another adult from our growing up years--they criticized us for not measuring up, for failing, communicating clearly that we didn't have it, we couldn't make it, we blew it and we'll blow it again.

Someone recently told me about his Inner Critic's primary message:  "You'll never make anything of yourself!  You'll never amount to anything!"  It always has the voice of his dad who has put him down his whole life and has never expressed any true belief in his abilities.  He's labeled his Inner Critic, "The Chairman of the Board."  This voice has always had the last word, the word of ultimate authority.  And it has prevented him from living his own life in freedom, with a sense of value, and possibility.

I definitely have an Inner Critic.  I got off the phone today after engaging in negotiation over a coaching contract with the CFO of an organization.  I felt really strong.  I was pleased with myself and the confidence with which I had presented a proposal.

And then suddenly my Inner Critic piped up and in no uncertain terms reminded me of a very small but silly comment I made in passing during the phone conversation.  As I listened, the "voice" started berating me and criticizing me.  I was tempted to believe it once again and discount the entire conversation along with my credibility.  I saw my Inner Critic looking at me holding up the big L on its forehead...Loser!  And the irony was, all evidence to the contrary.

Why Is the Inner Critic So Powerful?

Does that ever happen to you?  The Inner Critic is powerful.  Why?  Because we have given it power.  Because we've heard it for so long.  Because it speaks partial truth at times so that some of what it says is believable and we tend to lump all of what it says into that partially believable part.  And because whenever it speaks, it doesn't equivocate or articulate timidly.  It always speaks with authority and clarity.  Right?

The Essence of the Inner Critic's Message

Even Jesus battled this Inner Critic, this Shadow part that showed up in the form of the devil, the tempter.  The Bible elsewhere describes this Voice as "the accuser of the people."  Man, do we know this Inner Critic!

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness desert to be alone, to confront himself, his identity, his calling.  The voice of his heavenly father at his baptism was still ringing in his ears:  "You are my son, the one I love; I'm so proud and pleased with you."

Then the Critic showed up.  In essence It said, "So you think you're the Son of God, huh?  You think you're someone special?  NO way!  Not unless you can turn stones into bread.  You think you're someone special?  NO way!  Not unless you can jump off the pinnacle of the Temple and have angels break your fall.  NO way!  Not unless you acknowledge Me, honor me, listen to and believe everything I say.  You're no different than anyone else!  Good try!"

Notice the essence of this Critic's voice which echoes our Inner Critic all the time:  it's calling into question our identity, our sense of value and worth, our belief in ourselves and what God is calling us to be and do. It accuses us of being Nobodies.  It's connecting performance with success and identity.  So if we blow it or act out or fail at times, the Chairman of our Board bellows, "See, you're nothing.  I told you!  You'll never amount to anything!"

Our Inner Critic always connects performance with value.  So we end up only giving ourselves permission to feel good about ourselves when we perform well or are doing something "valuable" and "successful" (and usually we've bought into the ego-culture's definitions of those two terms).

I'm wrestling with this temptation from my Inner Critic a lot these days.  I'm in the middle of a big transition professionally, from spending most of my time pastoring a spiritual community to spending more time being a public speaker and spiritual teacher.  Others have taken leadership with the spiritual community and my wife and I are working hard developing strategic plans to begin speaking and teaching in the City and beyond.  So right now, one thing has ended but the new thing has yet to begin.  I'm in the "no man's land" of transition's middle zone.  And I struggle with a loss of identity and the corresponding sense of current "uselessness."

My Inner Critic isn't whispering It's critique of me, It's bellowing it.  Maybe I won't be able to pull off this transition to another manifestation of my Calling.  Maybe we'll try and it won't work.  What if no one shows up to the public events we plan?  What if no one cares about what we have to say?  What if I've lost whatever mojo I once had?  What if we can't earn enough income to make it?  What if?  What if?  "See, you're really amounting to nothing after all.  You're not good enough.  You won't make it.  You're not who you think you are, you're a nobody."

So how do you attend to the Inner Critic in a way that doesn't cripple you?  Here are several important strategies I've learned.

Strategies to Effectively Attending to Your Inner Critic

Honor the Voice--learn Its wisdom.  This is a counter-intuitive step.  The truth is, our Inner Critic speaks so loudly because It's trying to tell us something.  Believe it or not, it does have some wisdom for us.  Unfortunately, It often couches Its words in negative value statements.  But beneath those devaluing observations, It does have a role.  That role might be different for all of us.  It might be trying to keep us from doing something we'd regret later, like making a fool of ourselves, or biting off something we're not ready to handle, or doing something that might not be safe.  The Inner Critic speaks warnings ultimately to protect us, like oftentimes our parents tried to do. It wants to make sure we're considering all the angles before jumping into something.

I've learned that this process is not about silencing the voice as much as properly attending to it.

If we are willing to honor that Voice by assuring the Inner Critic that we will take Its warning into consideration and will not purposely try to do something dangerous or foolish, that we'll be strategic and wise in what we do, the Voice actually tends to quiet.  It wants to be heard and respected.  And we can listen to what we need to hear in its statements and honor those parts.  And then simply not embrace or accept the negative value judgments.

Say to It, "What is the wisdom you have for me?  What are the cautions I need to pay attention to?  How can I assure you I won't be foolish and unwise here?"  Honor and respect the voice of wisdom in It and then let go of the value judgments about identity and worth.  You're not a Loser no matter what you do or what happens.

Honor THE Voice--don't play the identity game.  Though my client has named his Inner Critic "Chairman of the Board," the truth is, there's only one Voice that we should give that title to.  Jesus got it right.  His first response to the Tempter and Accuser was, "Man should not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."

The Accuser had just challenged Jesus to prove his divine sonship by turning the desert stones into bread.  Jesus refused to play that identity game.  "I don't need to prove anything about who I am.  I don't perform my way into an identity.  I accept my identity as a state of being given to me as a gift the moment I was born.   I'm choosing to listen to the words of The Chairman of the Board, the One who just reminded me at my baptism who I am by telling me, 'You are my son, the one I love; I'm so pleased with and proud of you.'  That Voice is the one that counts to me when it comes to my identity, value, and ultimate worth!"

The next time your Inner Critic bellows that you're a failure, a loser, and that you need to do much better at performing and proving yourself otherwise you don't count, don't buy it.  Remind yourself of the Highest Voice who assures you that you're a child of God with ultimate and eternal value no matter what!  Your identity is secure, period.

Can we learn from our mistakes and foibles and even failures?  Of course.  We should.  The Inner Critic has wisdom for us to learn from if we allow ourselves to listen.  And sometimes we have to work hard to catch what It's saying "in-between the lines" of Its judgments and criticisms.

Choose to play the right game.  When my Inner Critic, after my phone call, reminded me of my silly statement, I stopped for a moment, replayed that part, and ended up saying, "Good point.  I was trying to be funny and light when I made that silly comment but I didn't need to.  I could have left that out.  It didn't add any value to the conversation and my point.  Next time, I'll remember and not feel the need to throw something like that in."

But then I chose to refuse the Voice's judgement label of Loser on me and went about my work, celebrating how strong I was on the call and my hope for a profitable outcome.  "I am a divine son who is called by God and loved by God and infused with eternal value and worth, no matter what happens.  Thank you for that secure and solid identity!  Now I'll keep moving forward, being as wise and strategic as I can, and knowing I'm the Man all along the way!" :)

Don't get caught up in your Inner Critic's identity game.  Only allow the true Chairman of the Board to settle that issue for you.

In Jesus' story, once the Critic-Accuser-Tempter crossed this line by demanding worship (an act of bowing to something as ultimate authority) , Jesus did a major push back and rebuked It by saying, "Get behind me!  Be gone!"  He refused to play the identity game.  He refused to give the highest status to It.  Only God is the Chairman of the Board who always pronounces value and worth and acknowledges inherent goodness.

So honor the wisdom of the Inner Critic and learn what you need to learn from It.  But don't mix Its messages up with your identity.  Don't get sucked into that game.  When it comes to identity, choose to play the right game:  listen to and honor the Voice of God who has the most authoritative handle on your identity as a loved and pleasing child of God, forever and period!  Beyond that it's all logistics and strategy.

Four Steps To Turning Your Hope Into Reality

"Christina's World" Andrew Wyeth (who died in January 2009 at 91 years of age) was one of the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century, and was sometimes referred to as the "Painter of the People," because of his work's popularity with the American public.  He learned art at an early age from his father, who inspired his love of rural lan

dscapes, sense of romance, and a feeling for Wyeth family history and artistic traditions.

In October 1945, his father and his three-year-old nephew were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. Wyeth referred to his father's death as a profound personal tragedy and a formative emotional event in his artistic career.  Shortly afterward, his art began to be characterized by a subdued color palette, realistic renderings, and the depiction of emotionally charged, symbolic objects and people.

One of the most well-known images in 20th-century American art is his 1948 painting, “Christina's World,” currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The woman of the painting is his neighbor Christina Olson who was 55 at the time of this painting. She had an undiagnosed muscular deterioration that paralyzed her lower body. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when through a window from within the house he saw her crawling across a field.

He described her as being "limited physically but by no means spiritually." Wyeth further explained, "The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless."

"In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul, almost," he said years later. "To me, each window is a different part of Christina's life."

So the painting depicts Christina’s journey of hope to get back to her house, the windows to her soul – the journey to reconnect with her true self in the midst of her disabilities, to hang on to the hope that she can fulfill her true soul’s purpose no matter what obstacles she faces.

The Power of Hope

Experts tell us that hope is one of the most powerful emotional attributes in helping us move our lives toward where we truly want to be.  Without hope, we die.  As author Brennan Manning wrote, there are three ways to commit suicide:  take our own lives, let ourselves die, and live without hope.  In those terms, consider how many people there are among us who are in reality committing suicide - they're letting themselves live without hope.  Perhaps they're afraid of hoping (for fear of getting disappointed).  Perhaps they don't even know what to hope for.  Perhaps they don't think they're worthy of anything good to base their hopes on.  In any case, they're taking their own lives by living without hope.

Hope is an optimism that believes something is possible, even when the reality we see appears to contradict the possibility.  Hope not only refuses to let go of the possibility, it chooses to take action to turn possibility into reality.

So how does this work in real life?  Think of people like former South African President Nelson Mandella and world-class athlete-cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.  They represent countless everyday people who have done the same thing:  rather than wait for their fears to disappear or for facts to back up their hope, they used hope to create new facts and reach their goals.

Here's what Lance Armstrong once said:  "If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from the.  When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope?  We have two options, medically and emotionally:  Give up, for fight like hell."

The power of hope is in its ability to help us create new facts about our possibilities - to chart new directions, to establish new behaviors, to take bold action in the face of odds and obstacles.  That's what successful people do.

Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, Harvard neuroscientist and psychiatrist, describes the difference between successful and unsuccessful people.  The study of successful people reveals that they “rely less on existing facts about any given situation to get what they want.  Instead, they recognize the challenges, and rather than giving in to the relative impossibility of achieving their goals, they seek out routes that will allow them to achieve them.  In other words, successful people do not lead statistically sensible lives.  Rather than asking questions based on what is probable, successful people train their brains to focus on what is needed to accomplish the less likely of two options.”  (Pillay, Life Unlocked, pp. 49-50)

How Hope Works the Brain - the Four Steps to Creating Your Reality

And the power of this Hope Approach is that it actually taps into and leverages the way the brain has been wired to work.  “When the brain thinks that something is possible, it will stretch out the route for achieving it.  It will chart a path toward your goal that is radically different from the course it would chart without hope.  We call these motor maps and they are action plans based on information that we give the brain.  They are highly dependent on what we imagine.  If we remain fearful, fear will disrupt our imagination.  If we focus on our goals instead of on our fear, the brain can use what we imagine as a guide for sketching out motor maps.  This imagining is tied so closely to doing that expert athletes can literally make improvements in their performance by first imagining them and then practicing them.  We call this motor imagery (or imagery of action), and it precedes actual movement or action.  So, if you want to make a change in your life, first imagine yourself making that change so your brain can determine the route that will take you to your goal.  Hope is necessary for action.”  (Pillay, p. 51)

So what’s the process of using hope to create your new reality?

  1. Start with hope – believing that something is possible
  2. Then imagine yourself doing it (motor imagery)
  3. And your brain creates motor maps – action plans – to help your whole body mobilize into action
  4. Then ACT on those plans.

And the good news is that it’s a self-reinforcing cycle.  If we continue to take those steps, it becomes a self-perpetuating process and creates its own momentum.  Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good To Great, calls it the flywheel principle.  With every simple turn of the wheel, it begins to pick up speed.  Every turn creates more turn, until it finally has its own momentum.  Our part is to keep turning the wheel - to keep doing the simple actions, keep taking the small steps that move us forward.  The flywheel reminds us that our actions will ultimately generate a sustainable momentum.

Keep affirming your hope - keep imaging yourself doing what you're hoping for - and then keep stepping into the actions your brain creates to bring your imagination into reality - keep acting - and then keep on repeating those steps.

I'm a firm believer in this process, having seen the reality of it take place again and again for myself.  Hope generates belief, which generates vision, which generates action, which generates reality.  As long as I keep turning the flywheel, momentum keeps building.  Don't stop turning the flywheel, don't stop hoping and acting!

Christina's World, Your World

Go back to Andrew Wyeth's painting.  Notice Christina's body language.  She's paralyzed from her waist down.  She can only get around by crawling.  There's a cross wind blowing - notice the strands of hair on her head.  Her arms have an emaciated thinness.  What's more, she's off the beaten path.  See that?  In the middle of a barren field.  And her house stands on the top of a hill that for a paraplegic must seem starkly unattainable.

And yet what is her body language?  Does it describe defeat?  Hopelessness?  Resignation?  No, she's leaning forward, toward her home, what Andrew Wyeth describes as her soul, her true self.  She hasn't given up.  She's focusing her life on where she truly wants to go.  She's about to mobilize all of her strength to move up the hill and get home.  One crawl forward at a time.  Putting one arm ahead of the other, pulling her lifeless legs behind.  One crawl at a time.

Now that's courage.  That's the power of hope.

So what do you find yourself afraid of?  What feels hopeless to you at times?  What do you tend to despair about?  What are the obstacles you face that stand in the way of your dreams?

What does stepping into hope look like for you?  What is the new reality you want to imagine?  How can you affirm that vision to yourself and others again and again?  Are you willing?  Are you willing to take action, to create new facts and act on them in ways that move you forward?  And are you willing to keep hoping, keep imagining, and keep acting, refusing to stop turning the flywheel?

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