Are you growing, stagnating or decaying inside?

It would appear that change in some form or other is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Whatever you focus on is either  growing, stagnating or decaying. All healthy organisms and organisations grow. The same can be said about us as human beings.

We see growth most obviously in the physical world when we observe healthy babies physically grow into children, adolescents and eventually adults. However, other forms of growth are no where near as predictable. Intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth are much harder to predict. To put it  bluntly it would seem many people do not grow much in their lives. Yes they grow physically, but they stay at a juvenile emotional, psychological or spiritual level. Even so, there are notable exceptions. It is those exceptions who provide inspiration and a vision to the rest of us for what is possible. (For examples see the life of Nick Vujicic or Lessons on Happiness From a 108 year old).

Its for this reason I have always been curious about personal growth, and why it is that some individuals and teams can dramatically excel in their performance and well being, while others in broadly similar circumstances will stagnate, plateau or even decline. The same opportunities and the same environment yet two people can go in radically different directions.

A helpful definition of growth I have come across is from Dan Sullivan when he says, "growth is about making your future bigger than your past." In many ways the desire to grow is a manifestation of the love of existence, or just being. In other words growth is a passion for existing in this world and a deep desire to fully explore life. It is about letting go of one's fears, insecurities, perfectionism and what other's think to live towards the God given potential we have all been given. Stepping out into the unknown is always an uphill and at times painful process - but it is also more fulfilling than the status quo.

The Greek writer Plutarch said, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." So growth is fundamentally first an inside job. It is about inside-out transformation - what this blog is all about! The world around us tends to encourage us to focus on external growth, assuming that what is internal and unseen will eventually catch up. That is invariably never the case. You can't run a company like that nor a life - eventually reality has to catch up with potentially disastrous consequences if there is too much of a mismatch between the outside and the inside.

Indeed you are more secure if you are greater on the inside than the outside, because eventually what is unseen will be revealed. When you are better than others give you credit for you can pleasantly surprise them. But when you are worse than others give you credit for there is the potential for disappointment, cynicism or much worse.

Meaningful growth begins at the level of thinking and mindset. Because change can happen at the speed of thought, the mindset we have becomes critical. Especially in our current age where our world is changing faster than ever, offering an abundance of challenges and opportunities. (Also see Never Or Not Yet - On Having The Right Learning Mindset).

Over the years I have become more and more convinced that growth comes from the mindset that you have. What is central to that mindset is seeing your future as greater than your past. What do I mean?

In the next blog post we will explore this further and look at some questions you can ask yourself to lead you in a growth direction, but for now how do you ensure you are growing and not decaying or stagnating inside?

Lessons on giving from Bill and Melinda Gates

They are the richest couple in the world with a fortune currently estimated at $90 billion. Since 1994 they have donated $35 billion to charity. The Gates Foundation that was launched in 2000 is the world's largest charity with over $40 billion in funds.  But the following 25 minute TED talk by Bill and Melinda Gates is a fascinating insight into what it personally means to develop a healthy attitude to giving.

Granted that none of us has access to the resources and expertise that the Gates have, but what is particularly interesting  to learn from them is how they have deliberately and intentionally thought through how they should use what they have been given. It has now become for them a life time's work of service to the world. Rather than retiring and living a life of luxury they have chosen to focus on some of the world's greatest and most deeply entrenched problems, particularly global poverty and inequality.

The primary aims of their foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. But it started with a trip to Africa when they were an engaged couple which opened their eyes to extreme poverty and their responsibility to make a difference. They could have chosen to ignore what they saw, but instead they have deliberately gone after some of the hardest practical problems in the world......

How do I make sense of my ego?

All of us struggle with the problem of ego.
In the right amount ego is inherently positive and provides a healthy level of confidence and ambition. When ego works well it drives out insecurity, fear and apathy. But left unchecked, and this is where it is most obvious, it can get out of control. Ego can easily then become arrogance. When that happens it attacks our talents and abilities. This is either through overconfidence and giving the false illusion that we’re better than we actually are, or by robbing us of confidence so that we lose trust in our ability to use those talents to capacity.

So at one extreme ego is the tendency to think too little of oneself and so fall into the trap of not valuing who I am and the contribution I can make. At the other extreme is the more obvious problem of thinking of oneself more highly than is appropriate and running insensitively over the feelings, plans or ideas of others.

The football manager Jose Murhino is often disarmingly honest and illustrates this danger with his comments to a Spanish radio station in 2011 when asked what he felt God thought of him:

"He must really think I'm a great guy. He must think that, because otherwise He would not have given me so much. I have a great family. I work in a place where I've always dreamt of working. He has helped me out so much that He must have a very high opinion of me."

When things go well in life it is very easy to fall into this kind of thinking.

Somewhere in the middle between thinking too highly and too little of oneself is humility that keeps our ego balanced and between these two extremes.

John Newton (1725 -1807) was a slave trader who lived a life of profanity, gambling and drinking. He experienced a spiritual awakening which led to a radical change in the direction of his life. He wrote the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. A favourite saying of his captures what it means to live with humility while keeping one's ego in check:

Is ego getting in your way?

I don't know who originally said it, but I've often laughed at the saying "If I could kick the person who has caused me the greatest amount of headache and heartache in my life then I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week!"

Marshall Goldsmith is arguably one of the most insightful and successful business coaches in the world. In this short 4 minute video he touches on the important subject of ego and how it can get in the way of us living truly satisfying and fulfilling lives. It is short, punchy and profound.

His provocative point is that everyday we make ego and pride (putting myself and my desires ahead of anyone or anything else) more important than our health, our safety and even more than the people we claim to love.  In many ways pride is the ultimate form of selfishness. That selfishness is the worst part of our human nature, or as Tim Keller has vividly described it, " a ruthless sleepless unsmiling concentration on the self." This is no small or trivial issue. It is a blind spot that affects all of us in some way or another. It has destroyed individuals, families and even nations.

From the video, taking the example of surgeons not allowing nurses to ask a series of simple questions such as 'Did you wash your hands?"  and  simply systematising this into a simple checklist has, according to Dr Atul Gawande, contributed to more deaths than the Vietnam War, Afghan War and Iraqi War combined!

The positive way forward advocated in the video is to appeal to enlightened self-interest. So in the case of a pilot it is seeing that being asked simple questions from a checklist by a junior such as "How much fuel do you have?" is vital to prevent not just needless passenger deaths, but also the death of the pilot himself. When I let my ego win, ultimately I and everyone else loses.

The vast majority of us are not surgeons or pilots, but how can we be better armed against the dangerous self-sabotaging effects of our egos? Perhaps the best way is to recognise and be aware of the early warning signs before they cause irreparable and lasting damage. Here are four to consider:

How do I become truly effective?

One of the best definitions of effectiveness I have come across is 'getting the results you want in a way that enables you to get even greater results in the future'. This is about success that endures, is sustainable and is balanced in all areas of life and not just one part. That all sounds well and good, but achieving it is far from easy or straightforward.

There are three key elements to personal effectiveness:
– You know what the important things to be done are.
– You know how to do them
– You are actually motivated to do what it takes and they become habitual.

To understand this better it is helpful to reflect on Aesop's fable of the goose who laid golden eggs. For a humorous, very inaccurate and somewhat tongue-in-cheek dramatisation of this do watch the 7 minute cartoon below:


Golden Yeggs (1950) by robert-farrell

The original story is about a poor farmer who one day discovers that his goose has laid a golden egg. .....

Why we need timeless principles to be truly effective

Effectiveness is about getting the things that truly matter done. You know what they are for you:

  • That project you keep putting off because it seems too complicated and out of your depth. But if you were to complete it would yield great benefits.
  • That conversation with a key person who could help to move things forward.
  • That important family friend or relative you know you need to get in touch with.
  • That time alone or at the gym to re-charge your batteries and help you focus better.

In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is based on timeless principles that in the end will bring about the maximum long-term benefits. To really understand effectiveness then we need to first understand what we mean by principles.

compass-152121_1280

Principles are natural laws or fundamental truths about life and the universe that are:

  • External to yourself
  • Do not change
  • Universal and timeless.
  • Produce predictable outcomes in the long term.
  • Continue to operate with or without your understanding or acceptance of them
  • Self -evident and enabling when understood and applied.

Correct principles are like a compass. They are always pointing the way. If we can learn how to read them, not only will we not get lost, confused or fooled by conflicting voices and values, it is more likely we will move forward in our lives with confidence and true power

As Stephen R. Covey puts it:

"We are not in control; principles control. We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from these actions are controlled by principles."

Principles are natural laws in the human sphere that are just as real, just as unchanging and arguably present as laws such as gravity is in the physical dimension.

The best example of this is found in the principles that govern the seasons and farming. Think about what a farmer does. He must prepare the ground, plant the seed, give time for it to germinate and grow. All this takes time and requires honouring the seasons by doing what is appropriate in a particular season. You prepare the ground and plant in the spring if you want to harvest in the autumn. How ridiculous it would be if you ignored this principle and instead chose to plant in the summer expecting a harvest in the winter! To do so is to violate the principles that govern the seasons and the growth of plants.

What are some examples of principles? When you hear them they seem obvious, and yet the media abounds with examples of people who do not live by them......

What does it actually mean to be effective?

So what does it mean to be effective? In other words how do I ensure I get the right things done and am not just busy for the sake of being busy? Effectiveness (doing the right thing) has to come before efficiency (doing more things in less time). This is powerfully illustrated in the 8 minute video below:

Here are some practical examples of this:

Are you being efficient or effective?

The dangers of just being busy

If you ask people these days h0w they are doing, the vast majority will tell you how busy they are. In many ways there is nothing wrong with being busy. The more important question is what are you actually being busy about?

busy-880800_1920

Efficiency is about doing something faster, cheaper and with less hassle. Its about getting more things done in less time. Nothing at all in one sense wrong with that either. Technology has increased efficiency dramatically in the last few decades. At the same time we have more and more things coming at us and so we naturally find ourselves speeding up and moving faster.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who first said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed." He died in 1948 so what would he have made of today's fast paced frenetic world? Speed is certainly something we have got in our lives!

While efficiency is important it only works when we make it of secondary importance and not the primary thing. In other words, it doesn't matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place. Of primary importance is ensuring I am getting the right things done. This is why effectiveness is so relevant.

For example you may be driving down the road at great speed, enjoying the weather and seeming to make great progress. But if you are heading North on the motorway to Edinburgh, and your actual destination is South in the opposite direction to London, then you are not being very effective!

While efficiency is getting more things done in less time, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. 

Here is how the late Peter Drucker put it:

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all."

That is the crux of the matter. Being busy for the sake of being busy is not enough. Just being busy can actually be an enormous distraction.

Here are five dangers of simply focussing on efficiency for its own sake while ignoring the question of effectiveness:

Why making a decision can be so hard

Choices! Every day we have to make them. Over the last few decades the number of choices we have had to make has increased dramatically. And it can feel exhausting. The short 5 minute video below humorously and helpfully explains this:

This issue of overwhelming choices has been exponentially increasing to have a dramatic impact on our often already busy and over-streteched lives.

It was back in the 1990s that perhaps Peter Drucker first predicated this decision fatigue when he wrote:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of the our time is written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

Drucker was right when he said we as a society have been totally unprepared for this dramatic shift, particularly in the industrialised world.
What he is saying is that the biggest change in society that has crept up on us is the huge array of choices in modern life. Those choices range from what cereal am I going to have in the morning (according to Wikipedia there are over 500 in the Western world!) to all the things I can choose to do with my time.

This has gradually and exponentially increased such that we initially hardly noticed it, but it has now added an extra layer of stress and complexity to our already busy lives. As the video describes apparently in 1990 the average American supermarket had 9,000 products to choose from. By 2015 that had shot up dramatically to 40,000. Apparently we need only about 150 to fulfil our general day to day needs. And that is just in the area of food shopping.

It is rather like the proverbial frog in the water pot. Gradually the temperature is being increased and we are beginning to boil! Some have estimated that the average person in the Western world has to make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. That in of itself sounds exhausting!

Why does this matter?

What does it mean to live with intention?

I don't know who originally said it, but apparently there are only 3 kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say, "What happened?"!

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 14.25.47

As well as being somewhat amusing I am also struck by how insightful such a saying is about human nature. It is so easy to go with the flow of whatever is going on around us or get distracted by whatever is latest or loudest in our lives. And at certain times and seasons of life that can be absolutely appropriate. For example think about the stay-at-home parent with the responsibility of children or the receptionist or administrative staff in a busy office. Or the sudden emergency at home with an appliance or device.  In all those instances it is absolutely appropriate to react to the pressing needs of the moment. Not to do so could lead to disastrous consequences!

The danger it seems to me is when we live the majority of our life reacting to what is outside of ourselves rather than in response to the long standing God-given longings, beliefs and desires that have been placed deep inside of us.

Here is how writer Carissa Lada describes how she and her then husband spent much of their lives without intention:

'Most of our activities involved going out to eat, planning which movie we’d see that weekend, or awaiting our favorite shows on TV. We had certain shows we looked forward to each night of the week. It was fine for a while, but I began to have this growing feeling like I was missing out on, well, life. I didn’t want to look back on my life in 20 years and say, “Well I saw every episode of [insert show], so I feel really accomplished!” This growing desire to get more out of life caused a rift in my marriage, and was one factor that ultimately led to its demise.'

So what is intention? At its simplest it is about living with an aim or a plan. But when we talk about living intentionally it is also more than that - it is a choice to deliberately pursue what is significant over the long term rather than the short term. It is to get more out of life than what I see in front of me with the vast myriad of choices and challenges to deal with.

Or taking the words of C. S. Lewis: