Four Questions To Improve Life (5043)

Twice this week I got phone calls. From two separate people. People I care about. Not family. But people I love just the same.

Two different people. Two different circumstances. Different challenges.

Two people who trust me enough to lean on me for support. Two people who know me well enough (and who have let me know them well enough) to understand I’m a judgment-free zone.

This week was a rather slow week. 😉

I almost never go an entire day without getting such a call. I’m that guy! And I love being that guy. Because empathy is understanding and compassion is empathy in action.

Everybody has problems. Some problems are really awful. Others are more trivial but don’t feel that way at the moment. It’s our life and to us it’s important. Vexing. Worrisome. Painful. Fretful.

Again, I don’t judge it. I lean into my empathy (which is understanding), then I go all-in on compassion (which is the action empathy takes). But this isn’t about me. It’s about YOU. Well, okay, it’s about ALL OF US.

Let’s start with some hard truths.

Here in America, there’s quite a lot of political unrest. Some want to impeach the President. Some oppose that. Here’s the truth – your life might be impacted by the presidency, but not very much. The United States is still a free republic. Elected officials and unelected officials aren’t to blame for whatever may be wrong in your life. And they won’t help you fix it. Or sustain whatever success you may be experiencing. You may be very interested in all that stuff, which is fine. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that if your candidate were in office, it’d all be better. No, it wouldn’t. It’ll be better when you contribute to making your own life – and the lives of others around you – better!

Your parents won’t save you. Well, okay, maybe they will. Maybe they’ll try. And in doing so they’ll be unintentionally hurting you more than they’re helping. If you’re under 40 there’s quite a lot you’ve yet to experience. Among them…being smacked in the mouth with a major economic downturn. If you’re under 30 and healthy odds are you don’t have much of a clue about adversity. Mom and dad can’t save you from every enemy attack. You have to learn to fight for yourself.

You’re not in full control, but that doesn’t give you the right to make excuses. I’m a Christian. If you’re not, even if you’re opposed to Jesus Christ, I’m not here to fight or berate your opposition. I’m simply providing you my context so you can better understand my perspective and why I believe what I do. This is important because humanism has elevated us – human beings – to godlike status. I don’t subscribe to that notion because I believe in God, I believe the Bible is the word of God, and I believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son who came from heaven and died so we could be reconciled back to God. In short, I believe Jesus is the Savior based on the Gospel story. Again, you don’t have to agree with me, but it explains why I don’t follow humanism and the notion that we have the degree of control stoics and other popular humanism philosophies espouse.

Accountability and control aren’t synonymous terms. At least not the way I’m using them. We’re all accountable. To God, to ourselves and to each other. But our control is limited. We’re unable to control all the things that may happen to us. Some things happen because of our own foolishness, our own ignorance and our own ineptness. But some things happen in spite of our best efforts. Sometimes things don’t work out even though we did everything as right as possible. External circumstances are often beyond our control. Timing is a real thing. So is serendipity. Then there are others. None of us are able to control others.

All of this is important not so we can make excuses or point fingers, but so we can be more determined to do our part to create and contribute to our own success. Our growth is largely within our control and nothing else.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
― Charles R. Swindoll

Who knows how accurate that is, but most of us can relate to it. And it certainly speaks to the truth that a great deal of our life is within our control. Which means we’re all without excuse to do the right thing. Without excuse to figure it out and move forward striving daily to improve.

Everybody has fear. 

No matter our age, if we’re an adult, we understand what lack of control feels like. We’re well-acquainted with fear.

The why of fear is simple: lack of control. We grow fearful when we’re beyond the reach of control. Nobody enjoys not having control. Our quest and desire for control may drive some of our biggest fears.

Hiding. It doesn’t work.

Running. That doesn’t work either.

We’re fooled into thinking those work though because at least when we run or hide…we’re in control. Unfortunately, coping with fear by running or hiding don’t work in our favor. They add to the destruction of fear. They comfort us with the deceit of control – control that is harmful.

Fear is likely THE thing that stops many of us from improving our lives. That’s why I’m giving it top billing.

But let’s dive into the four questions that I think can help anybody improve their life. Tap the brakes if you’re expecting something easy. Or if you’re expecting something terribly profound.

So here’s the first question. Yes, they are in a specific order, which I’ll explain as we move along.

“What’s right?” (Is this wrong?)

What do you use to establish any standards of behavior? Or do you?

There’s a wide range of philosophies incorporated by people. Some people have no moral apprehension about anything. If they want to do it, they do it. Scan the headlines and you’ll find behavior that you may think is deplorable, but somebody is living in that behavior. The same is true with people who have no governor that opposes criminal behavior. Prisons are filled with people who lacked any self-regulation against violating laws. Humans are capable of incredibly horrific behavior because not everybody has a standard of right and wrong. Others just ignore it long enough and wind up doing whatever they please until they’re stopped.

What about YOU?

Why do you believe some things are right and other things are wrong? Is it based strictly on hurting others? Does it include things that could hurt you?

I’ve already told you I’m a Christian so you know what standard I’m using. I don’t have to fret about civil laws because the Bible teaches people to obey those who “have rule” over us. The only exception, as prescribed by the Bible, is when civil laws – established by people – go against the laws of God. God comes first.

While that may make things a bit more cut and dried than how you choose to live, it’s not easy. Trying to living faithfully according to what God has outlined in His Word is often difficult. Self-sacrifice is self-control aren’t easy things, but they’re right.

If we’re going to improve our lives we have to begin with doing what’s right. Consider all the people who have gained some advantage through deceit, corruption, and dishonesty. Plenty of people are making millions of dollars each year through their own commitment to do wrong without remorse. Plenty of people are fulfilling their own sinful desires by consistently hurting others. Immoral, dishonest and corrupt behavior isn’t the path forward to growth and improvement. If you think it is, then you’re doomed right out of the gate. It’s only a matter of time.

When we’re working through our own anxiety or fretfulness we first have to ask, “What’s right?” What’s the right thing to do? What’s the wrong thing to do?

More personally, am I doing the right thing? Is what I’m doing wrong?

Doing the right thing won’t make the outcome easier. Likely, it’ll make it harder. I know we don’t enjoy that, but if we have no standard of right and wrong, or if we constantly compromise it, then nothing else matters. We’ll have a miserable life because every miserable person has a miserable life.

All the news of wealthy men involved in human trafficking and abusing children…and a host of other evil behaviors…these all indicate the depths of human depravity when people behave unregulated. An undisciplined life without standards.

People driven to please themselves at all costs will consider any evil to get what they want. Deceit. Corruption. Even murder. Lives without any standard of right and wrong.

Commit to something. Have a standard. Something you won’t compromise or negotiate. As Bob Dylan sang on his Slow Train Coming record…you gotta serve somebody. Most people, even people who have some sort of standard, are busy serving themselves. That’s not ideal for any of us. It doesn’t make us better. It doesn’t help us grow or improve.

When we ask ourselves this question, then we must answer it. That’s true for all these questions. They’re useless if we don’t have the courage to answer.

So what’s the answer to this first question? If in the moment of considering how things aren’t working as we want we ask and answer the question, then we’re closer to growth.

If the answer is, “What I’m doing isn’t right” then we can course correct. We can stop doing what we’re doing that’s wrong and start doing what’s right. It’s called repentance.

Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a pretty terrific book entitled, Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again. Dr. Cloud talks about how we’re all benefited by repentance, or making up our mind that we’re never going to go back.

Until we resolve whether or not we’re behaving rightly or wrongly, we can’t advance. So first, figure this out. Then you’ll be prepared to face question number 2.

“What am I fearing?” (Why am I fearing this?)

This is at the heart of why things likely aren’t working. Usually, we are the problem.

This is personal accountability. It’s our determination to face our own behavior and choices. Not to point fingers. Not to place blame elsewhere. Not to focus on what may have been done to us, or what may have happened to us – even if it’s beyond our control – but rather to face the reality that if we’re doing to advance, then we have to make different choices and take different actions.

This addresses the question, “What’s stopping me?” Yes, you’re likely stopping yourself, but why? The answer is typically because you’re afraid of something.

Sometimes this can tough to answer alone. Others can help us. Fact is, others can always help us but we don’t always lean on the right “others” to help. Most of us enjoy finding people who will approve of whatever we decide, whatever we do. Those people aren’t serving us. We’re not improved by being surrounded by a bunch of “yes” people. Each of us needs to be challenged in the most positive ways. That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish, but it’s doable if we really want it badly enough.

Fear can be tough to identify. But if our lives are going to be improved…we have to find a way.

The fundamental fear we have, according to mental health experts and even neuroscience folks is a loss of control. That can be manifested in a variety of ways. And it doesn’t necessarily include every fear we may have. But it may be a great starting place.

Can you connect your fears with a loss or erosion of control? Again, either answer – yes or no – can help you figure out what’s really going on.

If the answer is YES, then keep digging. Why? Why is a loss of control creating the fear? How does it manifest itself? What are you feeling?

Psychologists and psychiatrists famously probe people to dig deeply into their past to uncover the roots of their emotions and feelings. We’re not able to do for ourselves quite what these professionals are able to do, but we can still make progress. Self-examination is a powerful tool.

Do you remember the first time you felt this way? What were the circumstances that created it?

We’re not just creatures of habit, but we’re also creatures of patterns. We behave far more predictably than we may like to think. Or than we realize.

I’ll pick on myself in order to help you better understand the value of question two. A few years ago I decided I wanted to make a professional transition. I’m in the middle of it – well, maybe more accurately, I’m in the midst of it – right now. I honestly don’t know how far out I am. Or where the finish line may be. It’s a slog. What Seth Godin calls, “the dip.” The choice is turn around and swim back to where you started. Or keep swimming because you figure eventually you’ll reach the other side. And that’s where you intended to go.

For a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the story, I need to transition into a business where I have flexibility. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to work. Or that I don’t want to work hard. Or that I don’t want to put in hours. I don’t shy away from any of that, and quite frankly, I crave most of it. So that’s not it. I just have some other responsibilities that really prohibit me from having standard 8 to 5 hours.

I’d love to tell you that I’m a natural-born entrepreneur, but I’m not. My entire career has been mostly as a hired-gun running a business that didn’t belong to me. About a decade ago I stepped away from that and became a solopreneur, mostly doing “roll your sleeves up, get your hands dirty” consulting. It naturally morphed into more coaching, which was much more my speed. It better suited my natural wiring.

Until I discovered something else that even suited me better. It happened as I dove deeply into self-examination. Which is why I’m going to encourage you to embrace that practice more.

As I looked deeply inside myself I realized some things that went way back to my childhood. One, empathy. It’s easy for me. Empathy is understanding how others feel. I don’t have to work at it. Fact is, my empathy is too high. Yes, that’s possible I think. Because sometimes it gets in my way. I find it difficult to disengage empathy, which sometimes is helpful. Two, compassion. Compassion is to empathy as traction is to horsepower on a car. If a car has tremendous horsepower, but no traction – it doesn’t move. Compassion is the behavior prompted by empathy. Three, connection. Deep connection. Small talk exhausts me. I enjoy deep dives with people. And I much prefer to hear what’s happening with others than to share what’s happening with me. I love to listen and ask questions to better understand people. And four, service. I’m driven to figure out if I might be able to help. And if so, how. I’m obsessed with making some positive difference in the lives of people. That’s the reason for this podcast.

Well, these weren’t new revelations to me. I’d known all of these things since I was a kid. I just got in deeper touch with them. I probably did what you sometimes do…I worked too hard to be something I wasn’t. I wished I were different. There were things I wished I were — like being an extrovert instead of an introvert. But I’m not. And I’m never going to be.

My fear? Well, too many to share here, but suffice to say, chief among them was the fear that I wouldn’t be enough. That I may not be enough to make the professional transition I most wanted to make. Fear that it would require me to be somebody I’m not – mostly, a hard-charging, take no prisoners sales guy. A brazen hussie of self-promotion. It’s just not who I am. It feels awful to me.

Why did I have these fears? Because it’s what people constantly told me. Because others I saw espoused it and lived that way. I found these voices very unappealing. I didn’t feel I was remotely in my “element” around these people. I found them pompous, arrogant, and shallow. And upon deeper investigation realized they all had almost a complete lack of empathy. Which meant compassion wasn’t part of their chosen behavior. They all relished being gurus. Each of them mostly wanted to be the person at the front of the room. The person on whom the spotlight was always shining. Something I never wanted!

As I faced my fears I realized I my real truth – my genuine fear – wasn’t that I wouldn’t be enough. It was that I’d have to become like these people for whom I had little or no admiration. Was my goal or dream worth that? No. But was I seeing things as they really are? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves because we’ve got two more questions to go. I concluded that my fears needn’t be fears at all because it was going to impossible for me to be anybody other than who I am. So I made a deal with myself. I committed to being more fully who and what I am. That meant I was going to be forced to carve out my own path. I’d have to find a way to do thing congruent with who I am. I wouldn’t be able to follow some formula or process that worked for others.

That prompted a new fear – would I be able to do that? That’s where I’m at today. I still have that fear, but I’m working hard to face it. The real fear is that it won’t work. I’m fearful that there may be no other way to success. Deep down I don’t believe that, but the daily temptation to think that is ever-present.

That means just one thing — I’m back to that first fear of not being enough. Not being enough to push through and find a way to succeed. In a word, confidence.

Some of that may resonate with you. I hope it helps. It leads to the next question where we can continue the story of my own quest for improvement professionally.

“Where’s the evidence?” (Is there evidence for what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling?)

Confidence. Sometimes all of us are challenged with it. Maybe we’re overly confident when we should be more cautious. Other times we lack confidence and there’s no good reason for it. It’s just our own head trash.

Now that my fear was identified, where was my evidence? Especially my evidence for not having sufficient confidence?

Well, I had evidence of how some could achieve what I was after. But their methods and practices weren’t remotely congruent with my identity. Or how I’m naturally wired. Or in keeping with my best talents and skills.

I also had evidence that contradicted how I was feeling and what I was fearing. For the better part of 4 decades, I’ve successfully operated businesses. I’ve helped generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. I’ve led hundreds of people. I’ve managed payrolls, capital expenditures, negotiated real estate deals, and done most anything you can think of in building and growing a business. So I asked the question, “Where the evidence that you can’t do this…or that you may be unable to do this?”

I didn’t have any evidence. What I did have is evidence that I simply hadn’t done it. Yet.

That’s hardly the same thing as evidence that it can’t be done. Or that I’m unable to do it. The evidence all points to the same thing: I just have to figure out a way that works for me. A way that’s congruent with who and what I am.

Yes, I could abandon it and say, “It’s too hard.” I could give up. But then I’d miss out on doing work that I truly think is ideally suited for me. Work I feel as “meant” to do as any work I’ve ever done. That’s too much to give up.

Remember those calls I got. The ones I mentioned at the very beginning. Both of them involved people who expressed feeling a specific thing – something not good. Things like feeling family members no longer love us. Things like others feel we should be doing this or that. In every case, they were feelings projected onto others. Both these people were fearful of what others were thinking or feeling. Evidence? There wasn’t any. Just worry. Fears.

Both people admitted they had no evidence for their feelings. Better yet, they had compelling evidence to the contrary. Not only did people NOT feel the way they were fretting about…they felt just the opposite.

I know that’s not always the case, but it demonstrates how we can be our heads twisted up thinking something and feeling something that is completely false. Now you can better understand why that moniker about F.E.A.R. is correct.

False Evidence Appearing Real

There really is no evidence. Just fear. Suspicions.

Much of our head trash is focused on false beliefs. What we think is just false. Like my thinking I won’t be good enough. Or thinking I may be unable to figure it out. I’ve figured things much more complicated.

So it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean I’m not able to do it. So I can’t do it the way some urge me to do it. That doesn’t mean there’s no other way to get it done. I just don’t have any evidence to support my fears or lack of confidence.

But maybe YOU do. I’m not going to say there’s never any evidence for what we fear most. If there is evidence to support it, what are we going to do? Well, that’s our last and fourth question. And it’s appropriate no matter how we answer all the previous questions. You’ll notice none of the questions requires a specific answer before we can advance. No matter what, we can grow and improve. We have to be committed to it though.

“What’s next?” (What’s my very next move? Now what should I do?)

Patience is a virtue. It’s hard though when you’re in the battle fighting for your life. You want the fight to be over. You want to just be able to plant your flag and declare victory. The grind isn’t fun. But it’s often necessary.

You’re going to feel like you need to have every step between where you and where you want to be figured out. We’re tempted to feel that if we don’t know every single step toward achieving the goal…then we’ll never be able to get there.

“How?” is the big question we all want to ask…and answer. Look at my circumstances. I’d love to know HOW, but right now I’m in the throes of figuring it out. While I’ve got some ideas I don’t fully know. There are no guarantees. Right now I’ve got to work on deepening my belief so I can grow my confidence. I know confidence is key. I’m certain of it because I’ve seen it work more than any other single ingredient.

You have to figure out the next step. Just that next one.

Without that you’re stuck. We all know that feeling. Being stuck is a surefire way to fail. At anything and everything. So we have to avoid being or remaining stuck. This means we have to take some action. Maybe it’ll be the right action that will propel us forward in a big way. Maybe it’ll be action that doesn’t work as we hope. But there’s just one way to find out. Take the action.

We have to find out. Either way we win.

If we take the action and it works out favorably, great. We’re on our way. Now we can tweak it and do it more. And better.

If we take action that doesn’t work, great. We’ve learned that we need to make an adjustment. We likely need to go back to question 3, too. What does the evidence tell us? It tells us THAT action didn’t work this time. That’s likely all it tells us. But we too often conclude the evidence is that we’ll never be able to do it. Or something worse.

These four questions are like an endless loop. We work them constantly. We ask each of them with sufficient courage to answer them. Keep moving forward. Don’t regress. And if you do, catch it early and stop so you can change direction.



Project #CravingEncouargement

Today’s segment isn’t from an LTW listener. I’m still scheduling people and soliciting your stories. So far I’ve encountered more shyness than I ever suspected. Too many people want to be anonymous. I’d never guessed this would be so hard. So I need you people to step up. 😉

Seriously, those who contributed to my project financially and earned a Skype or Zoom call, I need to get those scheduled. But I’m determined to share stories worth sharing even if I have to go get them elsewhere, which is what I’m doing today.

Today’s story comes from John Pennington. I don’t know who he is, but in September 2018 he wrote a Facebook post that went viral enough to garner almost 500,000 shares, over 68,000 comments and over 427,000 likes. That’s the only commentary I’m going to make because I don’t know anything more about John. Here’s what he posted.

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