Archive for March, 2008

Power of Positive Thought

This week I took  a course offered by the Ontario Government called “Thought Patterns”,  presented by the York region franchise of the “Academy of Learning”.  The facilitator was a woman names Judith Seki.  Her background was amazing and her ability to engage and stimulate our group’s discussion was outstanding.

Some of the interesting things I learned and would like to share are:

We have 3 seconds to make a first impression and 3 minutes to fix the other party’s impression of us.  Once set, it could take us years to overcome and turn that person, from someone who has a low opinion of us, into someone interested in spending time with us. 

If we think about how much we can say or do in 3 seconds, let alone 180 seconds; we are limited and therefore must focus on some very simple, yet, ultimately essential attributes.

People will of course, unless it is a telephone call, immediately react to how we look. They will then think about things like: are we on time, do we know their name, are we smiling, are we standing up straight, do we look them in the eyes, is our attire appropriate, do we demostrate the appropriate level of respect, what is the tonality of our voice, how do we greet them and how do we respond to their greeting? 

Obviously if the conversation is over the telephone, via email, IM or in a chat room we are limited by tools we can use.  Therefore our focus must be on the tone we employ in our written or verbal communications and the content we convey.

So 3 seconds is up, they have formed a first impression.  Now we have another 177 seconds of time to set that impression in stone.   Is our posture appropriate to the setting and conversation, do we have a good opening story (the 30 second helicopter or elevator pitch), do we listen attentively to what they have to say, do we let them talk two thirds of the time, are we pacing ourselves accordingly, is our tone and volume appropriate and do we show the right level of emotion?

Assuming we achieve a positive result in this first 3 minutes, the balance of the discussion is to determine if you are the right person for the job, is the product you are selling matched to their needs or will they hire you to help them achieve some specific task.

We then spoke about the three attitudes we can take in such initial meetings or frankly whenever we encounter others.  These attitudes are:

  • Aggressive which can be either positive or negative
  • Passive which can also be positive or negative
  • Assertive which is always positive and allows us the opportunity to take on an aggressive or passive attitude, based on the circumstances and what we are discussing or why we are having the discussion

Next we spoke about perception and how our brain processes input and develops output.  Interesting statistic –  more than 75% of daily conversation is negative.  During this part of the discussion I came away with a different understanding of perception and reality.  Bottom line, ”My Reality” is unique and is based on how my neurons have been imprinted. 

Can we change the way we perceive things and adjust the pathways of our brain?  Absolutely, we must understand our existing habits, attitudes and beliefs and determine which ones are not working for us and adjust our thinking and change, in a positive way, our attitudes, habits and beliefs. 

Once we know what our negative habits, attitudes or beliefs are we can work on changing our thinking by thinking about what, why or how we would prefer to think and then:

  • Say It!  Earn one point for every-time you say it.
  • Do It! by exhibiting the new behavior. Earn ten points every-time you do it
  • Get It!  by having others provide positive reinforcement.  Earn 100 points every-time someone provides you with that affirmation.

The more points you earn the faster that new pathways will be established and the sooner the old negative pathways will cease to exist.

On the second day, after talking about what beliefs are and understanding that we have the ability to choose how to believe,we were ready to move on to the next step. 

We focused on how one goes about establishing goals and developing an action plan to achieve our goals.  We all knew that if we set our goals too big or made them unachievable then the results will be as one would expect.  So we must focus on defining bite sized goals.

As a consultant and executive I thought I knew how to set goals for companies, divisions, units or teams.  Yet even though I was on the right track, I learned some interesting lessons.

  • A goal can not be longer than one sentence.  It must start beginning with the words “I will be, do or have …”
  • They must be “SMART” Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recorded and Time specific.

As a result of this session, I set my first three goals:

  • I will start talking to a minimum of 10 people every weekday by March 31st, 2008.
  • I will be recruited as an executive with responsibility for strategy, innovation, projects, products and/or sales support by the end of 2008.
  • I will take two trips for pleasure by December 31st 2008.

They are now recorded, they are measureable they are specific they are achievable and they are time specific.

At one stage during the course we were asked to develop four statements that began with the words “I have …”.  Each of us developed our four sentences and told them to another person.  Then Judith asked us to change the word “have” to “choose” and restate our four objectives.  Interesting how different it felt when we used the words “I choose …” verses “I have …”.  Suddenly from being a command, they become objectives that we each decided would positively improve our lives.  It was an eye opener to see how one word can change our whole emotional and physical feeling about what we set out to do.

Not wanting to simply record what I learned over the four days I will focus the balance of this blog on insights that I acquired.

Visualization, an interesting word with the powerful ability to allow us to focus on changing our attitudes, beliefs and habits from being negative to being positive.  Affirmation and self talk are tools we can employ to help focus our minds and help us to move forward towards a more positive attitude about ourselves and our situation.  Talking to ourselves in a mirror will remind us to have a happy face and look ourselves in the eyes.

As we progressed, each of us exhibited negative feelings, fears or distress.  As we discussed the obstacles that could delay or stop us from achieving our goals, many of us exhibited frustration.  As we explored the list of obstacles, we came to realize that obstacles are not external, but instead they are self imposed

We came to understand that setting our goals requires that we: 

  • Understand what you really want
  • Understand what it costs both in monetary and non-monetary terms
  • Understand that we might have to make sacrifices to achieve our goals

Obviously, as previously mentioned, our goals have to be achievable or they are not SMART.

Clearly in developing our action plan we may find that others are involved or affected.  If we think about military tactics it is clear that if you surround your enemy and give them no means of escape; they will fight to the death.  So always leave those that could prevent you from achieving your goal a back door, so that they can get out of your way gracefully.

While understanding that we must make sure we leave others a way of exitting gracefully; we must also make sure that we close all doors that we could use to escape.

At one point during the session we had the opportunity to watch and discuss the film “Patch Adams”.  Our discussion focused on first impressions, perception, beliefs, goals, naysayers, memory joggers, visualization, self-talk, choice and obstacles.  Using Patch Adams, as an example of someone who emerged from being suicidal into the visionary and inspirational medical professional he is today; provided us with the clarity to understand that if we set our minds to something we can achieve amazing results.  It also reminds us that the most succesful solution in many situations is laughter and making sure everyone has fun.

On the last day we moved on to addressing the subject of stress.  Judith reminded us that obstacles are self imposed whereas stress has chemical and physical ramifications.  Therefore we needed to pay attention to what caused us stress, what would or have been the results and how can we minimize or better handle stress.

The first time we identified what causes stress, we all focused on the negative.  Clearly how we identify the cause of stress comes from our perception.  We learned that how we cope with stress is a balance between the stress we are under and our coping skills. 

The interesting thing about stress is that stress can be either a positive or a negative force in our lives; so starting out with the assumption that stress is all bad and therefore must be eliminated is not going to get us where we want to go.  Clearly each of us must develop methods and mechanisms to cope with the negative effects of stress such as meditation, music, hobbies, vacations, sex, laughter, having an attitude of gratitude and seeking help and support.  Obviously, this is one person’s abbreviated list.  Others might include painting, aroma therapy or lying in the sun as part of their inventory of coping skills. 

Bottom line, to address the negative causes of stress, we must develop an arsenal of tools and techniques to help us cope with these causes of stress.  Simultaneously, we must make sure that we employ the positive stress to accomplish our goals and get on with our daily lives.

To close the session we were introduced, through a video called “The Joy of Stress” to an extrodinary woman, Loretta LaRoche.  For fourty minutes she had her live audience and those of us watching the video constantly laughing. 

Through her use of humour she reminded us of what we had already learned; stress can be either positive or negative.  She told us that we had to “work to prevent a hardening of the attitude”.  She told us that one of our greatest fears is what will others think and “is anybody watching”.

She asked us to commit ourselves to “Stop Global Whining”. 

She demonstrated the power of humour.  She showed us that “laughter makes you happy”.  She reminded us that “laughter is contagious” and that working to make others laugh will brighten your day and better yet brighten their day.

She told us that if we walk around looking grumpy we will feel grumpy.  But, if we start out with a smile on our face we will feel happy inside.  “You feel how you think”, “your mind mimics your expression”, “how you look is how you feel” and ”how you look makes you feel a certain way”.  All demonstrated by how we felt when she forced us to put a smile on our face and forced us to laugh.

She repeated a phrase we had heard earlier in our session when we listed the obstacles to moving towards a positive self; “fake it till you make it”.

She told us that it had been proven that if people introduce some form of play in their work the bottom line is that productivity increases.  Imagine the shareholders reward if they demand that management makes coming to work fun.

She reminded us that we all think that we worry because it helps us to prepare.  Then she rattled off a series of statistics.

40%   of what we worry about will never happen
30%   of what we worry about are historic events
22%   of what we worry about are trivialities
  4%    of what we worry about we is outside our control and cannot change
  4%    of what we worry about are real events that we can act on

96% of what we worry about we can’t do anything about anyway. 

So why waste all that energy.

One frightening thing she said and quite a sobbering lesson. 

“Optimists live longer” 

and

“Pessimists are accurate, but, don’t live as long”

In closing she reminded us that

Yesterday is history

Tomorrow is a mystery

Today is a gift

That’s why it’s called the present

As I come to a close I am reminded that when I was a child I had very few things to worry about, I laughted at all sorts of things, I didn’t worry about what you thought of my antics and I had fun. 

So in conclusion “Find Your Inner Child” have fun, laugh, smile and be happy.  That’s what I am going to try to do to help myself.

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If you are interested in this program you can contact the York region of the Academy of Learning either on +1 (905) 836 8973 or +1 (905) 508 5791.  At this stage their program is  only available in the York region on Ontario, Canada. 

Maybe you can convince them to license it to a franchisee near you.