PART I: LIFE
Advice and Role Models Only take advice from people with lives you like.
Choices are power. The more of them you realize you have, the more power you have, so it's important to know that you do always have choices.
You can choose to change any attitude, opinion, or belief that conflicts with something you have identified as being more important.
The only real choice we have about the past is to change our present point of view about what happened: to change our context about the past.
Models and Truth
Information, beliefs, attitudes, or myths may be prevalent, or may have been around for a long time, but that doesn't make them true. Don't be a slave to a meme! These self-replicating ideas often do not have your best interests at heart. Choose your own context and run your own life!
This book is about ways to look at life. Everything I talk about here is a model, not a Truth. The trick is to find the models of life that help the most with your personal priorities. It's not a matter of figuring out what life's rules are--different things work at different times! What's important is getting clear about what's most important to you and acting in accordance with it. Just because you have a belief and nothing has happened to blatantly disprove it, that doesn't mean the belief is true! Personal growth occurs when we allow our belief systems to flex and grow with us. When we develop an inflexible mind-set, we stay stuck with what we've got.
The Truth Trap: The trap comes when we mistake something that is true some of the time, or something that used to be true at one time in our lives, for the Absolute Universal Truth. As soon as we do that, all of a sudden we see everything else in the light of that Truth, and we start building a belief system. The belief system collects evidence to support itself and becomes a filter through which we see things, and through which we make decisions in our lives. Make sure your context is working for you, not against you. A context full of strong opinions and beliefs can form a consistent, seemingly "true" view of life, but keeps out new, useful points of view.
This is the Truth Trap: What I believe is true. I can justify all my beliefs. If something I believe is proved to be wrong, I will admit my mistake; I'm rational and open-minded. I can justify my behavior based on my beliefs. I strive for consistency in my beliefs; to do otherwise would be hypocritical. I have integrity, morality, and values all based on my beliefs and live life by them. Nothing is "wrong" with it. That does indeed describe the mind-set of some of the most admired and successful people on Earth. Some of them, not all. And it's not a bad place to be! I am all in favor of integrity, morality, and values… not to mention rationality, openmindedness, and truth.
If you identified with the sentiment of that paragraph, you are in a very good place--you are poised for a major breakthrough in the quality of your life. Because there is another way to look at the same thing. Consider the following statement: There are any number of models of the universe--any number of points of view to take in looking at each situation. I can choose the models and points of view that work for me in each situation to support what is most important to me, rather than stick with one model or point of view out of a desire for consistency. I am clear about what is most important to me and choose my context to support me in that.
Notice the difference between this statement and the one from the previous section. In the first, the primary consideration is a reliance on the truth or accuracy of the way you currently look at life. There's nothing wrong with that, yet the second point of view is even more powerful. Why? Because the primary consideration is for what is most important to you, not your current model of life. In my experience, the people who are the most sure and trusting about their model of life are the ones who would gain the most by shifting to the second way of looking at things--by shifting their orientation from "How does what is happening make sense according to my understanding of life?" to "Which of the many possible ways to look at this situation supports me in what is most important to me?"
Stop Collecting Evidence
Your context unconsciously affects the way you perceive everything in life. Even if you consciously respond to every situation the best way you know how, your unconscious context has already stepped in and filtered out information you may never be aware of. The best way to keep your context flexible enough to work with you, not against you, is to stop consciously collecting evidence to justify your beliefs. It's good to know what your beliefs are, but rather than justifying them by collecting evidence, leave them open to question if the need arises.
Integrity means believing, speaking, and acting in accordance with what is truly most important to you, even if it contradicts what you did, said, or believed in the past. To enjoy life to its fullest, choose points of view that support you in living the life you want.
Fear and Purpose
Fear will rule your life unless you make something else more important. Without a sense of purpose to life, a sense of what is truly most important to us, we become like the ball in a pinball machine, bouncing away from fear after fear. When you have a purpose, you cause things to happen in your life. When you don't, your life feels more like the effect of things happening to you.
Purpose vs. Goal: a goal has an end; a purpose is ongoing. At work, goals might include "Make $50,000 a year," "Get promoted to group manager," and "Complete my project on schedule." But a purpose for working might include "Enjoy my job," "Support my family comfortably," and "Be known to myself and others as a reliable person who does an excellent job and keeps his agreements." Once a goal is achieved, it's over. But all the components of a purpose are continuing experiences that don't have a particular deadline or ending. They are threads that, when woven together, form a particular texture of life that you find appealing. If you have several different arenas in which you spend significant portions of your time--for instance, a job, a family, and a volunteer group--you may want to have a different mini-purpose for each one, reflecting the different texture of experience you want to have in each place. If you're wondering about how to come up with these mini-purposes, or if you're a person who is comfortable with the idea of goals, but you don't quite identify yet with how a purpose is different or what it would get you, it helps to have an overall sense of what is most important to you in your whole life. And if you are not yet clear about that, I would suggest that you make this your highest priority: having the richest, fullest, most meaningful, worthwhile life possible. With that in mind, you can extract these mini-purposes for each area so that they all add up to a life that maximizes everything you consider to be most important. By your own standards.
PART II: LIBERTY
The main concept underlying this section is self-acceptance. Accepting yourself means understanding who you are and how your life currently stands, without fighting or resisting that knowledge. It is difficult to experience real change, improvement, or growth while you are resisting or fighting the reality of who you are and how your life stands right now. You may have lots of self-acceptance already. If you do, you have even more to gain by finding those areas where it's missing. The quality of your relationships has a lot to do with your own self-acceptance and self-esteem. Raising them tends to automatically raise the quality of your relationships.
I personally avoid the use of "I can't" when I'm not talking about physical limitations, even in conversations with other people, just to keep in practice; but the important thing here is that you be honest in your conversations with yourself. If you're like me, as soon as you make a habit of saying or thinking what you really mean instead of "I can't," you'll find yourself much more conscious of what is most important to you and what your priorities are. If you're declining to do someone a favor because of a previous commitment, then it's not that you "can't" drive him to the airport, it's that it's important to you to keep your previous commitment. The underlying belief here that I'd like to strengthen in you is this: I can do just about anything if I choose to make it a high enough priority and devote enough time, money, and energy to it. Instead of saying or thinking "I can't," figure out what you really mean. For most things, you really can if you're willing to make them a high enough priority.
When you make excuses, or defend your decisions with reasons or justifications, return your focus to what is most important to you. If you are committed to what is most important to you, you don't need reasons or excuses.
At this point in my life, I sometimes find myself astounded that people even ask for excuses when someone breaks an agreement with them. I rarely do anymore; I just assume that the person in question has made a choice in accordance with his or her priorities. Something came up that was more important to that person than keeping our agreement.
My point is not that it's morally wrong to make excuses, or that you should cleanse yourself of this type of thinking to make yourself a better person. Not at all. But when you start buying into your own excuses, you are not doing yourself a favor. You're creating a layer of confusion between you and what's most important to you in life. If you want to go ahead and keep using excuses with other people, that's fine--although I stopped doing that when I began to realize that other people saw through them as well as I did. But be true to yourself. From now on, every time you catch yourself making an excuse to yourself, do a reality check. Instead of saying, "I'm too tired to cook tonight," figure out what you really mean. Do you mean having the experience of relaxing tonight or of eating a pepperoni pizza is more important than saving money and eating a healthy meal? If that's true, that's fine. Be honest--not to beat yourself up about it, but just to live in reality. You need to know where you are in order to get where you want to go.
If you want to trust yourself, which is a key part of self-acceptance, you've simply got to keep your word with yourself.
People who never fail are people who never take risks. Failure means you had the courage to try something beyond what was safe. If you want to have a great life, you'll be risking, and failing, more than people who are just surviving.
If you fail, take a look at what you're allowing to be more important than what you failed at. It could either be something that is truly more important--in which case there's nothing wrong; you just made a choice--or it could be something that isn't as important to you: a distraction, avoider, unconscious pattern, or whatever. When you're weighing whether something else was truly more important than doing what you committed to, remember: keeping your agreements with yourself has its own value over and above the result of achieving the goal.
Any agreement with someone else, if you're sincere about it, is also an agreement with yourself. Breaking it hurts you.
If we spend as much of our time and energy as possible doing what's most important to us, we'll have the best results possible. Maybe not perfect results, but the best results possible. Time spent worrying doesn't help. If you have perfectionist tendencies and you find yourself worrying about results, make that a signal to refocus on your intentions. What is most important to you?
Feeling guilty is a signal that our image of ourselves doesn't match who we really are. What can we do about it? One of two things: (1) change our image of ourselves, or (2) change our behavior.
You get to choose your attitude. If you feel self-pity, or notice you've adopted a victim attitude, let it serve as a signal to refocus on what's most important to you. And that's not proving it's "not fair."
If you want to have the greatest life possible, let the buck stop with you. Every time you pass the buck--by saying it's not fair, it shouldn't have happened (and between you and me, I know it shouldn't have, not to a nice person like you), it's someone else's fault, it's not your problem--you give away the power you already have to improve the situation. When you are accountable, you are saying, "I made some choices, and from those choices came my results." It's not a question of having to prove you are accountable for things. Accountability is just a point of view. It is neither more nor less "true" than the victim point of view. It just works a whole lot better.
Being accountable doesn't mean you wanted a particular result. It means seeing that the result stems from choices you have made. They may have been the best possible choices available, or they may not have been. Every time you feel self-pity or notice yourself looking at something with the victim attitude, consciously switch to an accountable point of view.
I know of two approaches to the problem of dealing with destructive unconscious reactions. For either approach you need a very clear idea about what is most important to you in life. Because if you aren't clear about that, then not only is there very little incentive for you to change, but it's not clear which patterns are destructive, constructive, or indifferent!
Respond vs. React: The first approach to breaking destructive patterns involves this notion of responding rather than reacting to situations. If you're very clear about what is most important to you and you've identified a pattern in your life that you consider destructive, you can intervene consciously every time the issue comes up and make a conscious response rather than just have an unconscious reaction. This only works well if you've clearly identified something more important than just continuing the pattern, and if you're strongly committed to it!
Be clear about something that is more important to you than continuing the pattern.
Commit to it.
As you become aware of situations where you would tend to react as part of the unconscious pattern, stop, notice your tendency, and instead make a conscious response in line with your commitment.
The Substitution Method:
Get clear about what need or craving is being filled by the pattern. There must be some short-term gain or you wouldn't keep doing it.
Get creative about some new ways to fill that craving-- ways that are constructive, rather than destructive to your life overall.
As the cravings are filled in other ways, it becomes easier to break the pattern by conscious choice.
Remember, you get to choose your beliefs. Why would you choose ones that sabotage you, even if you think they're true? So what if it's true right now? If you utterly refuse to believe that you can't, are unable, are limited, or don't deserve, you will automatically make faster progress toward what is most important to you.
Affirmations: An affirmation is a positive statement, in the present tense, about something you want to be true, although you might have some doubt about it. For example: • "I am making progress toward having a fantastic life." • "I have good taste." • "I trust my own judgment." • "I can do anything I set my mind to." People who use affirmations typically say them aloud one or more times a day. The idea is to reinforce your sense of ability and to strengthen points of view that help keep you on track to what is most important to you. When you're using positive thinking or affirmations, it's still important to be honest with yourself. There's a big difference between refusing to hold self-sabotaging beliefs and telling yourself lies in the hopes that they will come true.
Communication and Feedback
Whatever you want in life--whatever course you're on--making intelligent use of feedback can help you get closer to it, get it faster, and get more of it. Feedback can never be "wrong"-- it is just information. If you just know what someone is thinking and feeling about you, and you suspect it's unpleasant feedback, check it out. Ask anyway. Some of the most useful feedback comes when you ask about something you just know, but you're surprised by the answer.
Since I believe that listening to feedback is one of the easiest and most powerful ways for me to raise my quality of life, in many of my relationships I grant people blanket permission to give me feedback anytime they want to. And I listen.
My relationships, business or personal, never worked well until I started blowing my own horn--not in a demanding way or as an ultimatum, but simply voicing what I wanted in the relationship, giving feedback as to how I felt about things that were going on, and believing I had just as much right to create the structure of the relationship as the other party.
If you're like me, you've looked at things in terms of "want to," "should," "have to," or "supposed to," and never in terms of what you're committed to do. Committed doesn't mean you have to: it means you chose to, and you're sticking with your decision. What's the value of making a commitment? It allows you to come to a decision when you have a clear head or strong gut feeling about the value of something, and then go ahead and follow through on it without wasting time and energy on any of the traps that come with being uncommitted: worrying if you should quit because you might fail, indecisiveness, checking out greener pastures, wondering if you're on the right track, and so on. Now, commitment does not guarantee success! You might fail; there might be greener pastures; you might be on the wrong track. That's the downside. So when you make a commitment, let it be your best educated guess at what's right for you. Because by making a commitment, you'll be eliminating some of your options in life. It will be your choice, but you'll still be eliminating some options.
If you're unwilling to commit to a relationship because you haven't found one that's good enough yet--you may have the cause and effect reversed. Try increasing your commitment and see if the relationship gets better.
Make the commitment to have a great life. By being true to your commitment to yourself, you will flourish; by committing to make your life be about what you know in your heart is most important, you serve others, too. Whatever your commitments to others, you'll best honor them from the power and strength you gain by honoring your commitment to yourself. Make the commitment to have the richest, most fulfilling, most worthwhile, most meaningful life possible. Make that your most important commitment and everything else will follow.
PART III: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
The Key Question
Being an adult means you know best what is right for you. The highest quality of life comes when you make your own self-approval more important than the approval of others--when you make what's most meaningful to you more important than what others expect of you.
You have the option of creating your own structures in life. One of the most important choices in your life-- a choice that has tremendous impact on your results--is that of which structures, externally or personally created, you are going to honor. How do you choose, let alone create, suitable structures to live your life by? I would suggest that, at a minimum, you get very clear about your answer to the Key Question hinted at by this chapter's title. That question is: "What do you want?"
A Life Purpose
It's essential to be conscious of your life purpose. By knowing it consciously, you can easily get back on track when you veer off. More important, you can use the knowledge to create new situations and structures in your life that support your purpose.
You already have a personal sense of what is important, worth-while, and meaningful in life. You already have feelings of joy, love, delight, and satisfaction. You already know which experiences, people, and things you find attractive and which you find repulsive or indifferent. Discovering your life purpose is as simple as finding the common denominator in what you already know.
When you're living your life purpose effectively, all your fulfillment needs get met regularly in a constructive way. Once you have your unique list of your own personal fulfillment needs--your "Success Checklist"--the next time something seems missing or empty in life, you can tick down the list to see what it is. It's one of those needs! When you're confronted with a difficult choice, you hold up your list of fulfillment needs in front of the possible scenarios like a filter, to see which choice fits the best. The first step, then, in discovering your life purpose is going to be to figure out what your fulfillment needs are. Because whatever your purpose is, it's going to be something that meets those needs.
See chapter 18 to compose Success Checklist
The key to opening up possibilities is discovering the core need; with that knowledge, it is relatively easy to set up new means and structures to fill the need.
The craving that most drives you to harm yourself or others is the same one that will motivate you to greatness. It is only the expression of the craving, not the craving itself, that helps or hurts. The trick is to separate the cravings themselves from the harmful expressions of them. The cravings are core needs; the harmful expressions are (not particularly productive) means of filling those needs.
Simply by being conscious of your Success Checklist--do memorize it, by the way--you'll automatically increase your level of fulfillment in life.
A purpose statement: To assist you in committing, I suggest you come up with a statment of your purpose in life. If you like, it could be something simple, such as "My purpose in life is to have as full and worthwhile a life as possible, according to my Success Checklist." Or you may want to play around with the items on your Success Checklist and kind of roll them all up into an image that serves as your purpose statement.
You now have an incredible new tool for improving any situation you find yourself in. Anytime you feel like you're bored, frustrated, wasting your time--anything less than fulfilled--go through your Success Checklist and find out which items are missing.
The more effort you devote to finding ways to meet your needs within the existing structures in your life, the easier it becomes for you to meet those needs in the future, and the higher your overall quality of life becomes. When you spend your time and energy (and money!) shopping around for "the perfect job" or "the ideal mate," you don't get that benefit.
Rapport: Rapport, essentially, is mutual understanding, with a little trust and goodwill thrown in. When Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, he was writing about rapport. It's hard to improve on his suggestions:
Let people know, genuinely, sincerely, and heartily, the specific things you admire and appreciate about them.
Listening: Don't start solving the problem until you know what the problem is! What works best, especially if the conflict gets heated, is for one party--that would be you, since you've read the book--to focus exclusively on asking what the other's point of view is, then restating it back, until the other party says, "Yes! That's exactly what I mean." At that point, you're free to communicate your own point of view until you're satisfied that the other party understands you.
Resolution: Mutual satisfaction means you're both willing to accept any solution that works for you, even if it means giving up your original point of view. Any real resolution to a confluct, short of killiing one of the parties, is always win/win.
The most successful people are always looking for ways to find the win for others in what they're doing. Not only do they succeed because they enlist others in their cause, but they pretty quickly get a reputation as someone good to be around--someone who creates opportunities.
Big, Meaningful Relationships
If you expect any of your core needs to be filled by your mate, rather than by you, you're a relationship victim.
Lead by example! When you do, two things happen:
If you're really doing these things just because you want to, and not to try to manipulate or induce guilt in your mate, chances are he or she will learn from the example you're setting and eventually start to give back some of the experiences you've been creating yourself.
You may be surprised to learn that it works just as well for you to create those experiences yourself as it would for your mate to create them for you.
Your sense of fulfillment comes from meeting all the items on your Success Checklist--and it doesn't make a difference in the quality of your life whether it's you, your mate, or someone else who's setting up the structure to meet them. Playing by the Golden Rule, or simply being the way you want others to be, works in any relationship. In fact,you may find that as a result of treating other people the way you want to be treated, you start attracting new friends into your life who want to treat you the same way back.
If you get stuck on your road to happiness, flip back to this chapter and see if you've fallen into any of these pitfalls.
Use fulfillment strategies, not survival strategies
Get out of your comfort zone
Question your assumptions
Be nice to yourself
Risk other people's disapproval
Finish what you start
Learn from guilt, resentment, and self-pity
Be hungry for feedback
Be true to yourself