The Importance of Perspective in Life and Leadership

Do things feel heavy and dense in your life right now?

Maybe you’re stressed out about a challenge at work, or a problem at home that’s got you off balance. Perhaps you lost your job, or lost a big account at the office. Maybe you’re struggling financially, or have health concerns in your family. Perhaps your team is struggling with performance and motivation.

It may feel like the world is closing in. In those moments, it’s hard to maintain perspective.

 

The Problem with Lacking Perspective

Feeling that way is understandable, but losing perspective can be a big problem—and even make things worse. How?

When you’re stressed, you tend to view things through negative filter, causing angst, resentment, and pessimism. And when you lack perspective you have a hard time determining the relative importance of things. (See my article, “How to Stop Catastrophizing—Managing Our Minds.”) That can cause you to let things get out of whack, leading to new problems down the road.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

20 Benefits of Having Perspective

When you can put things in perspective, it means you can think about them in a reasonable and sensible way without making them better or worse than they are. Doing so has many benefits. For example, keeping things in perspective helps you:

  1. assess the importance of things in their broader context
  2. focus on what matters most
  3. understand situations and other people’s viewpoints
  4. keep anxiety and worries in check
  5. understand things more clearly and accurately, thereby reducing mistakes
  6. view things from different angles
  7. see both positives and negatives
  8. react intentionally and constructively instead of impulsively
  9. maintain your objectivity
  10. develop empathy and compassion for people instead of judging them
  11. avoid unnecessary conflicts
  12. improve your relationships
  13. forgive people instead of holding onto counterproductive grudges
  14. learn from experience
  15. discover new ways to view your problems
  16. develop your resilience
  17. grow as a person and leader, in part by seeing how you can transcend your current limitations
  18. appreciate what you have
  19. live intentionally and according to your core values and vision of the good life
  20. maintain your happiness and wellbeing

 

The Importance of Perspective for Leaders

Maintaining perspective is also important for leaders, in part because they face so many challenges.

Part of the job of a leader is finding problems in and discovering ways to get them solved. Encountering problems can feel overwhelming if you don’t have the ability to rise above them and see the big picture.

“One of the things leaders have to be good at is perspective. Leaders don’t necessarily have to invent ideas,
but they have to be able to put them in context and add perspective.”

-John Sculley, businessman, entrepreneur, and investor

Adaptive leadership is a modern leadership framework focused on how leaders can prepare and encourage people to deal with changing environments that are beyond the technical capacity of people to solve with straightforward solutions or the normal way of doing things.

Instead of trying to be the hero and solve everything, adaptive leaders motivate the people in the organization to face their difficult situations and adapt to the challenges they face together. They recognize, as Harvard leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz says, that “The work is through the people.”

One of the keys for leaders, according to Heifetz, is for them to “get on the balcony.” He explains:

“To diagnose a system or yourself while in the midst of action requires the ability to achieve some distance from those on-the-ground events. We use the metaphor of ‘getting on the balcony’ above the ‘dance floor’ to depict what it means to gain the distanced perspective you need to see what is really happening.”
-Ron Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

The idea is for leaders to maintain both sharp focus and broad comprehension at the same time. This will help them understand the situation, the challenges, and the people. Meanwhile, leaders must reframe their view of conflict, seeing it not as a problem to be avoided but rather as an opportunity for learning, growth, and advancement. Doing so requires perspective.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

How to Maintain Perspective

How can you maintain perspective when it feels like things are spinning out of control? Here are 12 ways to do so:

1. Read. One of the best ways to develop and maintain perspective is to read a lot, including classics of philosophy and literature as well as religious or spiritual texts.

2. Project forward. Think ahead five or ten years and imagine looking back on your current situation. That can help you see it in the larger sweep of your life so you don’t blow it out of proportion.

3. Talk things through. Lean on family, trusted friends, colleagues, a mentor, or a small group. That way, you can connect with others about what’s going on and hear their views on things. You’re also wise to talk to people from different vantage points (e.g., age, gender, culture, circumstances, history).

4. Distance yourself from the situation. You can do that conceptually, by looking at it from another person’s perspective (e.g., if you’re struggling financially, consider your challenges from the vantage point of someone with far fewer resources than you). Or you can do it physically, by changing your scenery. Often, removing yourself from the situation helps in ways big and small.

5. Do a reality check. Keep in mind that bad things happen to all of us, and that’s okay. It’s the nature of life. Be clear about what you can and can’t control.

6. Recall your capabilities. Think of times when you’ve overcome challenges in the past. Why shouldn’t this time be any different?

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

7. Start working on solutions instead of worrying so much about problems. With small but steady steps, you’ll start to see that your problems are probably more manageable than you thought initially.

8. Get out into nature. Go on a hike. Get out on a lake or into a forest. Feel the sun on your face and breathe in the air while taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of our bustling world. Contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and observe the intricate mesh of nature and life with reverence and awe.

“They will forget the rush and strain of all the other weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their bodies and good for their souls. Once more they will lay hold of the perspective that comes to those who every morning and every night can lift their eyes up to Mother Nature.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, conservationist, naturalist, and former U.S. president

9. Be grateful for what you have. Pausing to think of all the blessings in your life can help you avoid excess negativity and keep the positive things in your life front and center in your thoughts.

10. Meditate. With a meditation practice, you can train your mind to be more present, focused, and still, with a calm and clear awareness of the present moment. That can help you avoid anxious reactions to life’s vicissitudes.

11. Pray and attend religious services. Prayer can help you tune into a divine perspective. Attending religious services can connect you with ancient scriptures and teachings—and the importance of viewing life from a sacred perspective.

12. Contemplate your death. Engage in the ancient practice of memento mori, which is Latin for remembering that you will die. In many ways, death can be the ultimate purveyor of perspective. It can help you see trivial things for what they are. And it can help you face up to the fact that much of what you worry about isn’t so important after all.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, when you maintain perspective you’re able to weather storms better and keep your focus on what’s most important. Getting good at having and keeping perspective will serve you very well in life and leadership.

 

Tools for You

  • Traps Test (Common Traps of Living) to help you identify what’s getting in the way of your happiness and quality of life
  • Strengths Search to help you identify your core strengths and determine how to use them more in your life and work
  • Passion Probe to help you identify your top passions and start integrating them more into your life and work

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books & Resources

  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • Clayton Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
  • Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
  • Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
  • Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
  • Song: “The Long Run” by The Eagles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Perspective

  • “Plan with your whole life in mind.” -Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher
  • “Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river…. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here…. You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, novelist, and scientist
  • “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” -George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • ”Some things are just plain more important than others; in fact, some things are so important—your life, your health, your family—that others are trivial by comparison.” -Stephen R. Covey, Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success
  • “As you look back on your life, you may realize that the things that mattered most were too often at the mercy of things that mattered least… that you were terrorized by the tyranny of urgency, and that you enjoyed very little creative freedom…. How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.” -Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”
-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for living with purpose and passion) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Discover Your Passions–A Passion Probe Tool

Do you have passion in your life? Are you passionate about what you do?

Your passions are the things that consume you with palpable emotion over time. Do you have things you love doing so much that you’re willing to suffer for them?

Author and coach Curt Rosengren describes passion as “the energy that comes from bringing more of you into what you do. In essence, passion comes from being who you are.”

Your passions flow from your intrinsic motivation—your inner drive to pursue activities for their inherent rewards rather than external incentives—and from your natural abilities and talents.

Are you passionate about your work—or at least certain aspects of it? Do you really enjoy doing certain tasks? Do you frequently talk with others about what you love about your work? This may not be possible or easy, but it’s well worth working on by actively crafting your work to the extent you can. Otherwise, work can be too deadening.

 

Passions vs. Hobbies and Interests

Distinguishing passions from hobbies and interests can be tricky because they’re closely related. Here are the main differences:

  • Hobbies are things you do for pleasure or relaxation but not as your main occupation.
  • Interests are things you want to be involved with or learn more about, or things that attract and hold your attention.
  • Passions are things that consume you with palpable emotion over time.

The crucial differences is in the depth of emotional investment. One more wrinkle: This can change. Your hobbies can evolve into passions, and vice versa.

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

The Advantages of Knowing and Using Your Passions

There are major advantages flowing from knowing your passions and integrating them into your life and work. Doing so can:

  1. increase your motivation
  2. elevate your engagement
  3. boost your productivity
  4. sharpen your focus
  5. enhance your creativity
  6. help you achieve your goals
  7. stimulate you to keep learning, growing, and developing in your areas of interest
  8. strengthen your persistence
  9. augment your resilience in the face of challenges
  10. induce more happiness and fulfillment
  11. motivate others to work in areas of their passions when they see you doing so
  12. help you avoid burnout
  13. bring about much higher job satisfaction
  14. produce better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies over sixty years

 

Passion Probe: A New Tool for Discovering Your Passions

Instead of starting with a blank slate trying to think of what you’re passionate about, you can take a passions assessment to help you with this important process. My new Passion Probe tool prompts you to do the following:

  • Choose from a list of dozens of potential passions (and add any that may be missing).
  • Determine your top three to five passions. Ideally, place them in order, or at least pinpoint your top passion.
  • Describe each of your passions so you have a clearer picture of it.
  • Consider the extent to which you’re using (or not using) your passions at work, home, and beyond.
  • Brainstorm ways you could integrate your passions more into your life and work.
  • Determine what specific actions you’ll take to start employing your passions more.
  • Share your passions with your trusted friends and colleagues. (My Passion Probe tool has sharing functionality built into it.) This process of discovering your passions works best when you talk it through with friends and trusted colleagues and ask for their input. What’s more, teams can talk about ways to configure work assignments around people’s passions.

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

You’re wise to experiment with potential passions and explore possibilities. Remember: the picture is dynamic. Passions often develop and deepen over time.

You’re wise to foster your passions intentionally. Be patient with this process. While some people know their passions straightaway, that’s pretty rare and may not be the case for you. It may take time for your passions to crystallize and for you to grasp them fully and own them. That’s okay.

Importantly, focus on multiple passions, not just one. You can have several passions. Most people do.

 

How Leaders Can Leverage Passions

Passions are enormously relevant if you’re a leader, because they can catalyze high performance. How? Here are four things you can do as a leader:

  1. Identify and employ your own passions in your work. Be a good role model.
  2. Carefully consider passions when making personnel decisions, such as selecting and promoting individuals, and when organizing teams and job roles. A great team includes people with complementary passions. (The same is true for strengths.)
  3. Ensure that all team members are employing their passions as much as possible.
  4. Foster the development of passions among all your team members.

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, the key is not merely knowing your passions but employing them more often— creatively incorporating them into more of your hours and days—and nurturing them over time.

Ideally, you’ll harness not only your passions but also your strengths to contribute to groups or causes that resonate with your core values. This integrated approach will help you craft a good life.

Wishing you well with it and let me know if I can help.
Gregg

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your top passions?
  2. To what extent are you integrating your passions into your days?
  3. How could you do that more?

 

Tools for You

  • Traps Test (Common Traps of Living) to help you identify what’s getting in the way of your happiness and quality of life
  • Strengths Search to help you identify your core strengths and determine how to use them more in your life and work
  • Passion Probe to help you identify your top passions and start integrating them more into your life and work

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “Allow yourself to be silently guided by that which you love the most.” -Rumi, 13th century poet and Sufi mystic
  • “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” -Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple
  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “Passion is the driver of achievement in all fields.” -Sir Ken Robinson, author
  • “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.” -Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

What Are Your Strengths–And How Can You Use Them More?

Disengaged at work? Not energized and thriving in your life? It’s all too common.

What’s going on? It could be that you’re not using your strengths—the things you’re good at—regularly.

Are you focused on fixing your weaknesses instead of leveraging your strengths? Maybe you’re engaged in tasks you’d rather avoid, such as those that bore you or challenge your confidence. Do you keep doing something even when others excel in that task and you don’t? Meanwhile, it just drains you.

This is a recipe for frustration and failure. A better approach: actively shape your work and life to align with your strengths.

 

What’s a Strength?

Strengths are the things at which you most excel.

Knowledge, skills, and talents are the foundational components of strengths. Their development is influenced by additional factors, including practice, coaching, repetition, and feedback. Through consistent repetition and targeted guidance, coupled with feedback on your performance, you can significantly enhance your capabilities.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

The Advantages of Knowing and Using Your Strengths

Researchers highlight significant advantages associated with understanding and leveraging your strengths. For instance, doing so can:

  • Bolster your confidence
  • Elevate your motivation and engagement levels
  • Enhance productivity
  • Clarify your pathways to success
  • Facilitate goal achievement
  • Foster greater happiness and fulfillment
  • Help prevent burnout

Having a coach can help, since you probably have some strengths you’re not aware of. (When you’re good at something, you often assume others have no problem with it as well.) A coach can also help you figure out ways to develop and use your strengths more effectively.

 

Strengths Search: A New Tool for Identifying Your Strengths

Instead of sitting around trying to think of your strengths, you can take a strengths assessment to help you with this process. My new Strengths Search tool prompts you to do the following:

  • Choose from a list of dozens of potential strengths (and add any that may be missing).
  • Determine your three to five core strengths. Ideally, place them in order, or at least identify your top strength.
  • Describe each of your core strengths so you have a clearer picture of it.
  • Consider the extent to which you’re using (or not using) your core strengths at work, home, and beyond.
  • Brainstorm ways you could use your core strengths more.
  • Determine what specific actions you’ll take to start using your core strengths more.
  • If you wish, ask people who know you very well and ask them to share their perspective on your strengths. (The tool has this input and sharing process built in to its functionality.) This process of identifying your strengths works best when you discuss it openly with friends and trusted colleagues.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

How You Can Leverage Strengths as a Leader

Strengths are highly relevant if you’re a leader. They can be a catalyst for high performance. How? Four ways.

First, leaders should actively identify and employ their own strengths in their work.

Second, they ought to scrutinize strengths during personnel selection, advancement decisions, and the structuring of job roles and teams. A team should be well-rounded and have people with complementary strengths.

Third, leaders should ensure that all team members are using their strengths as much as possible.

Fourth, leaders should develop the strengths of everybody on the team, including themselves.

 

Conclusion

By identifying your strengths and integrating them more into your life and work, you can experience heightened engagement, vitality, and success. Imagine channeling these strengths towards a higher purpose, leveraging them to serve others. The possibilities are enticing and powerful.

Wishing you well with it.
Gregg

 

 

 

 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your core strengths?
  2. How often are you using your core strengths at work, at home, and beyond?
  3. How could you use your core strengths more?

 

Tools for You

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

Related Articles

 

Additional Resources

  • Patrick Lencioni, The 6 Types of Working Genius: A Better Way to Understand Your Gifts, Your Frustrations, and Your Team
  • Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (including an online assessment)
  • Albert Winseman, Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld, Living Your Strengths
  • Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work
  • Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership (including an online assessment for a personalized leadership guide)
  • Clifton Strengths Assessment
  • VIA Survey of Character Strengths

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Strengths

  • “Liberating and expressing your natural genius is your ultimate path to success and life satisfaction.” -Gay Hendricks, psychologist and author
  • “The man who is born with a talent which he was meant to use finds his greatest happiness in using it.” -Johann Wolfgang Goethe, German poet, novelist, and scientist
  • “A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strengths at the right time.” -Dr. Donald Clifton, psychologist and researcher
  • “I’ve never met an effective leader who wasn’t aware of his talents and working to sharpen them.” -Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander
  • “While there are many good levers for engaging people and driving performance… the master lever is getting each person to play to his strength. Pull this lever and an engaged and productive team will be the result. Fail to pull it and no matter what else is done to motivate the team, it’ll never fully engage.” -Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Avoid the Trap of Focusing Too Much on Others’ Needs

Daily life can be demanding. Work. Family. Bills. Deadlines. Dishes. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, especially if you fall into the trap of focusing too much on others’ needs.

This challenge is common among caregivers like nurses and teachers. Also, many women struggle with it, in part due to all the expectations they encounter around nurturing, caregiving, and supporting homes and families. But it can affect anybody, especially those wired to give. This trap can result in empathy overload, compassion fatigue, and giver burnout.

Signs of being too focused on others’ needs include difficulty setting boundaries, struggling with saying “no,” internalizing others’ emotions, feeling responsible for fixing other people’s issues, and losing yourself in relationships. These habits can become ingrained.

 

The Problem with Being Too Focused on Others

Focusing too much on others’ needs can lead to neglecting your own needs, harming your health, and feeling exhaustion or burnout. It may also pull you away from pursuing your own goals. It may even lead to an addiction to helping others that inhibits your own healthy functioning.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Avoid the Trap of Focusing Too Much on Others’ Needs

What to do about it? Here are 14 things you can do to avoid this trap:

1. Recognize that sacrificing yourself to help others isn’t sustainable. Be warned: troubles lie ahead if you continue down this path.

2. Create separation and distance between yourself and others when needed. Remove yourself from these situations when you can.

3. Designate times to enjoy life free and clear without the press of outside needs and obligations. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch a movie. Choose activities that bring you joy. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

4. Get better at setting boundaries and saying “no.” State clearly that you can’t help right now. Since you’re human, you have limits. Honor that so you can thrive personally and have the energy to continue helping others.

5. Develop a shield. University of Miami psychologist Heidi Allespach advocates for medical residents to cultivate what she terms a “semi-permeable membrane” around their hearts. This counsel extends to anyone grappling with compassion fatigue. She explains, “Without enough of a shield, everything just comes in.”

6. Reduce the extent of your assistance when needed. Remember that looking after someone doesn’t equate to swooping in to save them. Understand that even the smallest gestures can have a significant impact. People can feel upheld and comforted even by small acts of kindness and connection. They might not even need or want a ton of help. Sometimes, a simple visit, call, text, or meal can mean a lot.

7. Enlist the support of others, ensuring you’re not alone in providing help. Bringing a network of helpers is likely to lift the person’s spirits and ease your own load in the process.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Clarify what you need from others and ask for it directly even as you’re providing help. Don’t hesitate to articulate your own needs and requests while also being generous towards others. Master the art of advocating for yourself so you can continue helping effectively.

9. Try “cognitive reappraisal”—reframing how you see a situation involving someone in need. Rather than assuming people will suffer or fail without your assistance, imagine how they might cultivate fresh coping mechanisms that will help them help themselves in the future.

10. Imagine a friend experiencing compassion fatigue (and feeling guilt for not being able to help more). You’d probably advise them to give themselves grace and take care of themselves first.

 

11. Prioritize self-care practicesEat well. Move your body. Get a good night’s sleep and make sure you have a good and regular sleep routine. Spend more time outside. Take regular breaks. Meditate. Try journaling. If you don’t take good care of yourself, how can you take good care of others?

12. Guard your heart and don’t let yourself get to the point of empathy overload or compassion fatigue. Pay attention to the emotions that arise when you witness others’ suffering. Allow these emotions to pass through you. Acknowledge them without clinging to them. This practice can help you stay grounded in the present moment with equanimity.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

13. Connect with family and friends. The research unequivocally points to the profound advantages of healthy relationships. They play a pivotal role in enhancing your happiness and fulfillment.

 14. Preserve your time and energy for the others you care about and who rely on you. Focusing too much on assisting one person in need may hinder your ability to support others, including your family or colleagues. And it may detract from other important tasks.

 

In the end, the solution isn’t being selfish or neglecting others. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can maintain the energy and stamina to keep helping others.

 

Tools for You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Quotations

  • “Don’t lose yourself trying to be everything to everyone.” -Tony Gaskins
  • “Many of us find that we have squandered our own creative energies by investing disproportionately in the lives, hopes, dreams, and plans of others. Their lives have obscured and detoured our own.” -Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
  • “It’s OK to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about.” -Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran minister

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

Why me? Why can’t I ever catch a break?

If you’re in the habit of asking such questions, it’s a sign you may have a victim mentality. When you’re playing the victim, you believe that bad things you experience are the fault of others.

What’s more, you believe those bad things will keep happening, so there’s no point in changing. It feels like the world is against you.

There’s a difference between being a victim of real hardships (e.g., poverty, disease, trauma) and having a victim mentality. (1) With a victim mentality, you believe not only that you’re a victim of negative circumstances but also that you’re helpless in the face of them.

Such thinking may provide some psychic relief, at least in the short term. But what you’re really doing with this kind of thinking is sabotaging yourself.

A victim mentality is not only a problem for individuals, according to researchers. Groups and teams can also fall into this trap. That damages the culture, so leaders need to monitor and address this problem early and often.

Having a victim mentality comes with a substantial price. For example, it can:

  • drain your energy
  • bring frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness
  • result in giving up and feeling self-pity
  • diminish your sense of agency
  • lead to withdrawing from friends, family, and colleagues
  • stop you from taking necessary actions
  • damage your mental and emotional wellbeing
  • be a gateway to other maladaptive behaviors, including numbing behaviors like abusing alcohol or drugs
  • become a vicious cycle, with poor responses to tough situations, inviting more problems and then ultimately feeling worthlessness and pointlessness

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

According to psychologists, victimhood is an acquired trait, not inborn. That means you have the power to overcome it.

Here are 18 ways to stop being a victim:

1. Avoid wallowing in negative emotions. Dark and gloomy feelings are natural, even universal. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on them. Catch yourself tuning into negative feelings and resolve to change the channel when you do so.

2. Change your self-talk. Analyze and question your beliefs. Dispute the idea that you’re a helpless victim. For example, ask whether your identity as a victim is true. Ask whether your current beliefs are useful or harmful. Then act accordingly.

3. Don’t ruminate on your problems. Focus instead on something more positive (e.g., what you’ve learned or what you’re looking forward to). (See my article, “What to Do About Overthinking, Rumination, and Worrying.”)

4. Recognize the patterns of when you lapse into victimhood. Be wary of those people or things and devise ways to avoid or address them. Recall the kinds of things that help you stop these downward spirals.

5. Develop a healthy view of yourself and your capabilities. Build your confidence by preparing well for challenges or big projects. Focus on learning and developing as you go.

6. Recall situations in which you’ve overcome adversity. You may be more resilient than you think.

7. Take an inventory of your strengths. Know what you’re good at—the things at which you excel most. Brainstorm how you can use your strengths to address challenges you’re facing. (See my article, “The Power of Knowing and Using Our Strengths.”)

8. Distinguish between yourself and your negative experiences. You are not what’s happened to you. Don’t assume the identity of a victim. Believe that you have the power to overcome your circumstances.

“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
-Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

9. Realize that you always have agency. Yes, life is sometimes unfair. It comes with pain, loss, and heartache. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless in the face of hardship.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

10. Change who you spend time with. Avoid people who wallow in victimhood. Spend more time with positive people who take responsibility and proactively address problems as they arise.

11. Recognize that having a victim mentality is a form of self-sabotage. Resolve to transcend this thing that’s only prolonging your misery and holding you back.

12. Make a clear and firm decision to let go of the victim mentality. Why not choose to be happy and thrive instead?

13. Forgive. Forgive people who have harmed you—if not for them, for you. Maya Angelou called forgiveness “one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.” And forgive yourself as well for past mistakes. Make peace with your past.

14. Take responsibility for your whole life and everything in it. That means everything, including the things that are unjust or unfair. (See my article, “The Power of Taking Full Responsibility for Your Life.”)

15. Be kind to others and find ways to serve them. By doing so, you’ll escape an unhealthy fixation on yourself and your dramas. The fixation feeds the victim mentality, while service starves it.

16. Engage in daily self-care practices. Create systems for this, make it easy, and develop good habits. That should include exercise, good sleep and healthy eating habits, and perhaps other practices like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.

17. Develop a gratitude practice. This will interrupt your negative thought loops and place your feelings of self-pity in a larger and more accurate perspective. (See my article,The Trap of Not Being Grateful.”) When you focus on the good things in your life, it’s hard to feel like a victim.

18. Seek help from a therapist, counselor, or support hotline when needed. Options include:

Wishing you well with it.

Gregg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on How to Stop Being a Victim

  • “Whatever has happened to you in your past has no power over this present moment, because life is now.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author
  • “Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity…. You will then ignore, deny, or sabotage the positive in your life.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “…what helps victims best is the development of a healthier self-concept.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” -Richard Bach, writer
  • “…an individual’s sense of personal control determines his fate.” -Dr. Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
  • “Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The difference between the hero and the victim is the way they react to the pain they experience.” -Donald Miller, business executive and author
  • “…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
  • “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” -Napoleon Hill, author
  • “Constructive action is the opposite of victimized brooding.” -Dr. Robert W. Firestone, clinical psychologist
  • “…people suffering from the victim syndrome are prone to aggravate the mess in which they find themselves. Strange as it may sound, they are often victims by choice. And ironically, they are frequently successful in finding willing victimizers.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

(1) If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, try to disclose it as early as possible to trusted family members, friends, or trained professionals. That can lead to more support and quicker processing and healing.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Overcome Perfectionism: 14 Approaches

Do you struggle with perfectionism? It’s a big problem today for many, including ambitious professionals and leaders. It’s also widely misunderstood, and even misappropriated as a badge of honor.

Perfectionism is a personal standard that demands or expects flawlessness. It typically includes overly critical self-evaluations and excessive concerns about harsh judgments from others.

Perfectionism entails striving for unrealistic or even unattainable goals. What follows, of course, is disappointment when you fail to achieve them. If you’re a perfectionist, you translate low performance into low self-worth.

The assumption behind it is that perfection is the only route to self-acceptance. Some people praise perfectionism as a desire for self-improvement, but in reality it’s much more about seeking acceptance and approval. It’s about conflating your identity and worth with your performance and accomplishments.

Here are signs that you have perfectionistic tendencies:

fixating on your mistakes
being overly critical of yourself
striving to be flawless
being overly cautious
seeking to control situations
getting defensive about feedback

Researcher Brené Brown suggests that perfectionism isn’t binary. Instead, she notes that we all fall on a continuum of perfectionistic tendencies, ranging from occasional and situational bouts of it to “compulsive, chronic, and debilitating” versions of it.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

The Downsides of Perfectionism

How does perfectionism affect you? In sum, it lowers achievement while bringing stress. Perfectionism inhibits your work, harms your relationships, and causes needless suffering, degrading your mental health.

It can fuel fear and frustration, as well as disappointment and discontent. It even takes away from your enjoyment of accomplishments because you’re focusing on the things you could’ve done better.

According to the research, it’s linked with psychological distress and low self-esteem, as well as with fear of failure and workaholism. By tapping into your fear, perfectionism can divert you away from your creativity and deeper wisdom.

You may feel like your perfectionism can help motivate you to do a great job on things but, at the same time, you suspect that it can invite anxiety into your life and turn people off around you.

It can get confusing, so you’re wise to distinguish between perfection (which is impossible in human pursuits) and perfectionism, and between the pursuit of excellence (which is positive) and perfectionism (which can be quite harmful).

Perfectionism isn’t the same as the pursuit of excellence or striving to be your best.
Instead, it’s a self-destructive expectation that you can be perfect.

 

What to Do About It: 14 Approaches

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to address your perfectionistic tendencies. Here are 14 practical approaches:

1. Distinguish between tasks that warrant perfection, or at least a very high standard of performance, and those that don’t. If you’re involved in brain surgery, airline repairs, or financial reporting, you need to get things right. But if you’re responding to an email or taking notes on a meeting, you don’t need to agonize over every word or phrase. A simple example: do your colleagues need a verbatim meeting transcript that’s beautifully formatted, or do they need short summaries with helpful headlines and bullet points for the key action items?

2. Think about the ratio of inputs to outputs. Consider things like your effort and time on the front end and then estimate how much they translate into real value for others on the back end.

3. Factor in the opportunity cost of your perfectionistic behavior. Recall that there are diminishing returns to continued work on something after a certain point. Think about better uses of your time. You can make a greater impact on more things if you use your time intentionally instead of slavishly giving in to your perfectionistic impulses.

4. Force yourself to get started on important things right away. That way, you’ll sidestep the avoidance problem that comes with perfectionism. Many perfectionists don’t get started on something unless they know precisely how they’ll do it and they can convince themselves it will be flawless.

5. Show early drafts of your work to others and request quick feedback. Mention that it’s just a draft and you’re looking for high-level feedback, not fine-tuned edits as if it were a final version. Ask them if it’s good enough. And if not, how close to being done is it, and what would make it so? Often, you’ll discover that your early draft is either good enough or close to it, and that it would be wasteful to spend many more hours honing it.

6. Reach out to a trusted friend when you’re having trouble getting started. Talk through your initial ideas. This will often help put things in perspective, organize your thoughts, and help you realize you do have something valuable to contribute. And often, they’ll provide not only ideas or input but also encouragement and inspiration.

7. Remind yourself that most things involve a process of getting a rough start, making improvements, and then making final tweaks. Don’t let the perfectionist in you fail to start because the first draft won’t be perfect. Take a page out of the lean startup methodology common in the startup world in which they start with a “minimum viable product” and release it out to the world so they can get early customer feedback and learn from it before spending too much time and effort on something.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Give yourself a deadline. That way, you’ll avoid getting caught in an infinite loop of fixes.

9. Remind yourself that getting something done is more important than making it perfect. Recall the old saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

10. Flip the switch from negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Change the channel on your inner voice so that it focuses more on potential and growth and less on deficit and critique.

11. Focus more on process and not just results. Recognize that results aren’t always fully in your control. When you focus on the process, you’re more likely to get lost in your work and not freeze up due to fear of failure.

12. Adopt a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. In a growth mindset, you recognize that you can develop your intelligence, abilities, and talents—that they’re not static. Our mindset, according to the research, shapes our enjoyment of challenging tasks, ideas about what we will strive for, and performance on tasks.

13. Change your focus from perfection to progress. Use a checklist and regular reviews so you can see your advances (and celebrate them).

14. Remember that you matter and have worth regardless of how you perform on the specific task in front of you. Don’t fall into the trap of conflating your performance on everything with your self-worth. Recall that many great achievers got that way by stretching themselves, failing often, learning from their mistakes, and persevering through adversity.

Choose progress, not perfection.
Done is better than perfect.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you falling into the trap of perfectionism?
  2. How is it affecting you?
  3. Which of the approaches noted above will you try?

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Recommended Books

  • Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
  • Jennifer Breheny Wallace, Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—And What We Can Do About It
  • Shirzad Chamine, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential—And How You Can Achieve Yours

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Overcoming Perfectionism

  • “Perfectionism isn’t about high standards. It’s about unrealistic standards.” -Professor Andrew Hill, York St. John University
  • “At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” -Michael Law, author
  • “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” -Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” -Anna Quindlen, writer

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Approaches

Are you self-aware? It’s common for people to overestimate their self-awareness.

Being self-aware means having a clear and accurate understanding of yourself, including your feelings, motives, desires, core values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do you have a realistic view of yourself,
including a good and true sense of how others perceive you?*

Based on multiple investigations with nearly 5,000 participants, organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich and her colleagues found the following:

“…even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality:
We estimate that only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.”
-Dr. Tasha Eurich

Psychologist Daniel Goleman considers self-awareness one of the four domains of emotional intelligence (along with self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). What’s more, self-awareness is the foundation for the other three.

If you lack self-awareness, you’ll have blind spots that cause problems. For example, if you don’t know the reasons for your actions, you’re likely to keep making the same mistakes. Also, you’ll be less likely to take responsibility for them, damaging your credibility.

There are many benefits to having high self-awareness. For example, it can help you communicate more effectively, improve your relationships, and increase your happiness and fulfillment. It can help enhance your sense of personal control, improve your decision-making, increase your confidence, and augment your influence.

“…self-awareness is a predictor of success in leadership.”
-James Kouzes and Barry Posner, A Leader’s Legacy

Also, how can you expect to find good work that’s a good fit for you—and know what work you should avoid—if you don’t know your strengths, passions, and preferences, and if you don’t know what energizes you and what drains you? How can you avoid conforming to the desires of others if you don’t know your own heart?

“When you start thinking that you don’t know what to do with your life,
what you really mean is that you don’t yet know who you are.”

-Brianna Wiest, The Mountain Is You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Powerful Approaches

Here are seven things you can do to elevate your self-awareness:

 

1. Engage in frequent self-reflection.

Reflect on meetings or other encounters and their emotional wake. Pay attention to what you love, what you long for, and what makes you come alive. This means sometimes getting out of “climbing mode” (striving to move up the ladder of success, focusing on achievement and advancement) and getting into what I call “discover mode” (learning about who we are, including our values, strengths, passions, and dreams, and what we can do in the world). Listen to your inner voice.

 

2. Take assessments.

They can facilitate not only your self-awareness but also your personal development. For example:

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

3. Ask for input from family, friends, mentors, and coaches.

Solicit honest feedback, not only about your behaviors and strengths but also about your weaknesses and blind spots. At work, this can include “360-degree reviews.”

 

4. Consider not only what you know about yourself but also what others know about you.

For this, check out the Johari Window, a framework that can help you identify what’s known to yourself (or not) and what’s known to others about you (or not). See below.

Source: Adobe Stock

How many people get to see your true self? Do you have blind spots—things that are known by others about you that you’re not aware of? Consider writing down ten words that describe yourself—your main characteristics. Then have people who know you well do the same for you. Compare the lists to see how much overlap there is (or isn’t).

 

5. Journal.

As you journal, reflect on your experiences and feelings. Seek insights and look for patterns.

 

6. Join or start a small group.

When run well, small groups can facilitate deep conversations about meaningful things. Make sure the conversation includes not only self-reflection but also input from the group. That way, participants will have a chance to consider new insights in a safe environment.

 

7. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

Engage in daily restorative activities (e.g., meditation, yoga, or gardening). Find places or practices of peace that help you guard and recenter your heart. Without renewal and sanctuary, you’re likely to be too scattered and frazzled to maintain high self-awareness.

 

Developing your self-awareness will have powerful effects on your life, work, relationships, and leadership. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.

“’Know thyself’… is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.” -Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis quote

 

Reflection Questions

  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. Might you be overestimating your self-awareness, like so many others?
  3. Are you asking for feedback regularly, and are you truly open and receptive to it?

 

Tools for You

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books and Videos

  • Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • Tasha Eurich, Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think
  • William L. Sparks, “The Power of Self-Awareness,” TEDx Asheville
  • Tasha Eurich, “Increase Your Self-Awareness with One Simple Fix,” TEDx Mile High

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Self-Awareness

  • “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” -Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
  • “Know thyself.” -inscribed on the temple wall at Delphi, 6th century BCE
  • “If a man does not know himself, how should he know his functions and his powers?” -Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French Renaissance philosopher and writer
  • “Self-knowledge is best learned, not by contemplation, but by action. Strive to do your duty and you will soon discover of what stuff you are made.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, poet, and scientist
  • “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” -Witold Gombrowicz, Polish writer
  • “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’… Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening…. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” -Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.” -Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
“Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity. You develop it by exploring your life story and your crucible, and by understanding how these experiences shape you as a person and leader. You enhance it as you seek honest feedback from others. You refine it by adopting practices that help you remain mindful and aware, even amidst life’s chaos.”
-Bill George and Zach Clayton, True North: Emerging Leader Edition

 

* There are two types of self-awareness, according to researchers. The first type, internal (or private) self-awareness, is about how clearly you see yourself and whether you notice and reflect on your own internal state. The second type, external (or public) self-awareness, is about how aware you are of how you appear to others.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Avoid Complacency

Have you become complacent? Have you been lulled into a state of easy contentment? Or are you at risk of not paying enough attention to potential problems? Is complacency preventing you from trying harder and making needed improvements?

It’s a common trap. Perhaps you’ve been complacent about your health—or the health of those you love? Have you been complacent about your work, team, leadership, or organization? Or complacent about your relationships? About democracy or the planet?

You may be struggling with complacency if you’re taking things for granted or if you have too much routine. Do things feel monotonous?

Are you sticking to what you know? Staying in your comfort zone and avoiding risk? Are you “phoning it in”? Have you stopped learning and growing? Is your ambition waning?

Perhaps you’re wondering,

Is this it?
Where did all my time go?
Isn’t there something more I should be doing with my life?

There’s nothing wrong with comfort per se, or with feeling satisfied. You probably want them in your life. The problem is when you have too much of them and lose your inner fire to fight for your dreams or your zest for life.

Complacency becomes a problem when it’s sapping your motivation, when it’s leading to inaction when action is warranted, when it’s detracting from your sense of hope, when it’s leading to mediocrity. Is it robbing you of future opportunities and benefits, or derailing your career?

 

14 Complacency-Busting Actions

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to avoid complacency (or to break through it when you’re in it). Here are 14 complacency-busting actions you can take:

1. Start acting with urgency. Like your time counts. Because it does—and probably more than you’re realizing now.

2. Invoke deliberate agitation. Try using what Tyler Hakes calls “deliberate agitation.” Think of it as shaking a snow globe. He writes:

“You let things settle into place just long enough and then shake them up. Watch to see if they fall into the same patterns or if something new and better emerges…. You deliberately and intentionally question things and change them before they become a problem. You remain vigilant in trying to improve so that way you don’t fall into the trap of complacency that leads to eventual failure.” -Tyler Hakes

3. Dream big. Think expansively about all you want to do in your lifetime in different areas, from family, relationships, and work to education, service, travel, and more. When you do that, you start to feel the powerful pull of your deepest aspirations.

4. Step out of your comfort zone. Has fear held you back from venturing forth and risking yourself? When you push yourself, take risks, and dare to have adventures, your blood races. You start to feel awake and alive again.

5. Strive for a BHAG—a “big, hairy audacious goal.” It can be a life goal or a work goal, but a true BHAG should take your breath away with how bold it is and how amazing it would be if you could make it happen.

“…there is a difference between merely having a goal and becoming committed to a huge, daunting challenge—like a big mountain to climb…. Like the moon mission, a true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort…. people like to shoot for finish lines. A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.”
-Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

6. Build your top priorities and most important activities into your calendar. Doing so will ensure you make progress on your top goals. That way, you can not only develop good and productive habits but also become the sort of person who consistently gets big stuff done.

7. Enlist support. Consider recruiting an “accountability partner”—someone who can help keep you on track (such as a training buddy or someone you can send regular progress reports to).

8. Identify and remove barriers to change. When you’re stuck, it’s easy to become complacent and acclimatize yourself to the new situation. Why not get to work instead on identifying the major obstacles to progress and how to overcome them?

9. Notch short-term wins on meaningful work to build momentum. Draw on what researchers call the “progress principle”:

“…of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”
-Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle

10. Take full responsibility for everything in your life. Be what my co-author, Christopher Gergen, and I call a “LIFE entrepreneur.” You’re much more likely to thrive when you take ownership of your life and recognize your agency—when you take your life back. LIFE entrepreneurs go out and create opportunities for themselves. They intentionally craft a good life with good work, and they bring their dreams to life.

#11. Get clear on your personal purpose, values, and vision:

  • Your purpose is why you’re here. It’s what gives you a sense of meaning and significance—often by connecting with and serving others.
  • Your values are what’s most important to you—your core beliefs and principles that guide your decisions and behavior.
  • And your vision is what you aspire to achieve in the future—and what success looks and feels like for you.

12. Cultivate vitality. You’ll feel better and perform at a higher level when you develop physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness. Being intentional about productive and energizing habits will pay big dividends.

13. Let go of limiting beliefs. Ever been your own worst enemy? Have you locked yourself in a mental prison of judgment, negativity, and rumination? Never forget that you always retain the power to upgrade your thoughts, and it can help you avoid the trap of complacency.

14. Set and maintain high standards. You tend to rise or fall to the standards you set. Why not leverage deadlines, accountability, and high standards to propel you forward?

 

Related Traps

Complacency is common, and it can be deeply damaging. It also tends to come with several associated traps:

 

Final Thoughts

Are you letting the complacency trap rob you of quality time and experiences? Of achievement and passion?

It’s tricky because you probably want satisfaction and serenity, and not a life of frenetic striving or perpetual busyness.

Somewhere in between the extremes, there’s a healthy place of urgency to live intentionally, achieve important things, serve others, and cherish your days, not squandering your time in a cloud of complacency.

Wishing you well with it—and let me know if I can help.

Reflection Questions

  1. To what extent has complacency crept into some aspects of your life and work (or your family or organization)?
  2. What will you do to regain the motivation and urgency to escape this trap?

 

Tools for You

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Complacency

  • “The life you have left is a gift. Cherish it. Enjoy it now, to the fullest. Do what matters, now.” -Leo Babauta, author
  • “Complacency keeps you living a comfortable life… not the life you desire. Challenge yourself to do something different. Then, notice the new charged quality of your life.” -Nina Amir, author and coach
  • “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” -Benjamin E. Mays, minister
  • “I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.” -Trent Reznor, musician and singer-songwriter
  • “History and experience tell us that moral progress comes not in comfortable and complacent times, but out of trial and confusion.” -Gerald R. Ford, former U.S. president
  • “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees.” -John Kotter, founder of Kotter International and Harvard Business School Professor
  • “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” -Jim Rohn, author and entrepreneur
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Why You Should Build Your Passions into Your Life and Work

What are the things that consume you with palpable emotion over time? What are the things you love so much that you’re willing to suffer for them? Those are your passions.

You probably have passions in different domains of your life. Are you passionate about your work—or at least parts of it? Do you talk often about what you like about your work, or find yourself working extra hours even when you don’t have to? Are you building your passions into your days and weeks?

 

14 Benefits of Building Your Passions into Your Life and Work

There are many powerful benefits to building passions into your life and work. For example, doing so will:

  1. boost your motivation
  2. enhance your engagement
  3. increase your productivity
  4. sharpen your focus
  5. augment your creativity
  6. help you achieve your goals
  7. motivate you to keep learning, growing, and developing in your areas of interest
  8. boost your persistence
  9. help you be more resilient in the face of challenges
  10. lead to more happiness and fulfillment
  11. inspire others to find and work in areas of their passions when they see you loving life and thriving
  12. help you avoid burnout
  13. lead to much higher job satisfaction, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data from nearly a hundred different studies (1)
  14. result in better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past six decades

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Of course, there’s also a flip side to this: there’s much lost when you don’t have passion for what you’re doing. In that case, you’re much more likely to lack enthusiasm and “phone it in.” Over time, this can put you on a downward trajectory.

To what extent are you building your passions into your life and work?
What more could you do?

 

Tools for You

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” -Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
  • “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” -Stephen King, writer

(1) Mark Allen Morris, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Vocational Interest-Based Job Fit, and Its Relationship to Job Satisfaction, Performance, and Turnover,” PhD dissertation, University of Houston, 2003.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

 

This Is How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

It feels like the world is dead-set against our focus these days. Are you bombarded with digital distractions? Are there near-constant requests for your attention?

Do you feel overloaded? Does your concentration feel fragmented? Find yourself checking your phone constantly?

These aren’t just annoyances. They can become a disaster for your productivity and quality of life.

 

Focus and Leadership

According to a survey of more than 35,000 leaders in more than 100 countries, 73% reported feeling distracted from their current task some or most of the time, and 67% described their minds as cluttered.

Nearly all the leaders surveyed (a whopping 96%) reported that enhanced focus would be valuable or extremely valuable to them. The researchers concluded:

The ability to apply a calm, clear focus to the right tasks… is the key to exceptional results….
we have observed a direct correlation between a person’s focus level and their career advancement.”

-Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter*

 

Struggling with Focus?

Here are some signs that you may be struggling to focus: You’re reading something but not absorbing it. Maybe you’re listening to people but you’re not taking their words in. You zone out in meetings. You’re jumping from task to task, and not making considerable progress on your priorities.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

The Benefits of Focus

There are many benefits when you cultivate the ability to focus. When you’re focusing properly, you: make better decisions, manage your time more effectively, feel less stress, remain calm under pressure, and have better work quality. What’s more, you’re more creative and productive.

 

How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

How can you develop your focus? Here are 24 actionable approaches:

 

1. Observe your daily rhythms. Notice your best and worst times for focused work. Track your energy levels at different times and on different tasks. Then design your work and schedule to capture your greatest attention and energy.

 

2. Take regular breaks. Your brain can’t focus all the time. You need to toggle between focus and rest. (When you do so, you’re able to focus much better when you return from rest, according to the research.)

 

3. Practice self-care. Develop good sleep habits (regular bedtimes, caffeine and device curfews, etc.), eating and hydration habits, and exercise habits.

 

4. Minimize interruptions and eliminate distractions. For example, turn off smartphone notifications and place your phone outside the room when working.

 

5. Develop simple rules to maximize time in deep work. For example, don’t check email before noon (or another time that works for you).

 

6. Focus on one task at a time and avoid frequent task-switching. When you switch tasks, you waste time regrouping and trying to recover your focus. Be more disciplined in doing one thing at a time.

 

7. Design your work for “flow.” According to researchers, flow is a state of deep concentration and absorption—a state of almost effortless attention and peak performance. (See my article, “Designing Your Work for Flow.”)

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Practice doing things that require concentration. For example, read books or play games that require focus.

 

9. Engage in deep breathing and practice meditation. With meditation, you can train your mind to become more present, focused, and still, and you can enhance your concentration. It can help you train your attention and awareness, helping you feel calm and clear in the process. It’s a means of quieting and focusing—and refocusing—your mind. (See my article, “Why We Need Meditation and Mindfulness Now More than Ever.”)

 

10. Reduce anxiety, stress, and negative self-talk.

 

11. Get very clear on what’s most important so you can direct your efforts toward that.

 

12. Determine which tasks will contribute the most toward your most important aims.

 

13. Clear the decks so you can focus on your most essential task for extended periods.

 

14. Reduce or eliminate non-essential tasks. Consider using a “stop doing list” or a “drop list.”

 

15. Schedule your most important tasks and give them deadlines. (Tip: Be generous in the amount of time allotted for completion. We tend to underestimate the time it will take, generating stress in the process.)

 

16. Learn to say “no” more often and more easily, especially to things that don’t fit with your top priorities.**

 

17. Systematically measure your progress on your most important tasks. Tracking progress helps you maintain attention.

 

18. Stop focusing so much on results and focus more on deep engagement with the process of doing things that matter. For example, focus more on the strategies you can adopt for healthy living and focus less on your target weight.

 

19. Experiment with different schedules that help you focus better. For example, try themed days, such as a Monday planning day, Tuesday prospecting day, Wednesday writing day, etc. (or half-days).

 

20. Make a “Done for the Day” list each morning—a list of what would constitute essential progress and that’s reasonable for a single day.***

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Tools that Help with Focus

Beyond the approaches noted above, here are three tools and frameworks that can help with focus:

1. Eisenhower Decision Matrix (a.k.a., Urgent-Important Matrix): distinguish between tasks that are urgent (time-sensitive, demanding immediate attention) and important (contributing to your long-term purpose and vision), using a simple matrix.

2. Ivy Lee Method: give yourself no more than six important tasks per day, listed from most important to least important. Then address them in order of priority, and without moving to the next task until you’ve completed the current one.

3. Brian Tracy’s “Eat the Frog” method: identify one challenging and important task (the metaphorical frog) and complete it first thing in the morning. The logic:

“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue…. The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous.”
-Brian Tracy, Canadian-American author and speaker

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you struggling with focus?
  2. How is it affecting you?
  3. Which approaches work best for you?
  4. Which new ones will you try, starting today?

 

Tools for You

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Recommended Books

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. The few who cultivate this skill and make it the core of their working life will thrive…. Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
-Cal Newport, Deep Work

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Focus

  • “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” -Alexander Graham Bell, scientist, engineer, and inventor
  • “If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” -Peter Drucker, consultant, author, and expert on management and innovation
  • “Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of where you, and your organization, focus.” -Daniel Goleman, psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence
  • “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” -Tony Robbins, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist

 

References

* Source: Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, “Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help,” Harvard Business Blogs, December 26, 2017.

** Author Gregory McKeown suggests saying “yes” only to the top 10% of opportunities you encounter, in part by using rigorous criteria for giving assent, such as whether the opportunity is exactly what you’re looking for. If it’s not a clear “yes,” then it should be a clear “no.”

*** Source: Gregory McKeown, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (Crown Currency, 2021).

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!