Change Your Life Today, Now, Forever

Apparently, these or some of the expressions which are searched on the Internet quite a lot: “Change your life today”, “Change your life now”, “Change your life forever”. A bunch load of people are not living the lives they want to live, and they’re looking for ways to change that.

And I think that’s great. Unfortunately, for a lot of them, the search process in itself is setup for failure. Because they’re looking for quick fixes; for magic solutions to improve their lives: “Do this twice every day for 7 days and your entire life will turn around.

In this era when things happen at great speeds, there is a fascination with fast and easy solutions which create big, lasting changes. And this fascination fuels an entire industry trying to provide them. An industry which for the most part, doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the “change your life today, now, forever” promise.

Let’s take a look at two very common examples:

1. Diets. There are hundreds of diets out there, which promise miracle results. Yet what they really provide is a relatively fast weight loss which does not last and is often very unhealthy.

Any person who lost a lot of weight and kept it that way can tell you what the solution that works is: eat less and exercise more, eat right and exercise right. Not just a couple of weeks, but as a constant part of your lifestyle. This way, you will slowly but healthy loose weight and you will keep it off you. It seems to be too hard for most people.

2. Subliminal tapes. There is a multi-million dollar industry of self-help tapes with subliminal messages on them, tapes which promise to change you life, improve your confidence, attract wealth and so on, just by listening to them. Because, we are told, the subliminal messages which you cannot hear consciously go directly to your subconscious mind and create powerful changes.

It certainly sounds great. There is just one problem: it doesn’t work! Every independent study on the effectiveness of subliminal tapes has reached the same conclusion: they are a waste of money. They only sell with the help of powerful and deceptive marketing.

As a general rule, quick fixes do not work to change your life. So why are they so popular? I think is has to do with a couple of things:

  • People are educated into believing that there are special, secret tricks which if you discover, you can use to change your life today, now, forever.
  • People don’t want to put a lot of time and effort into changing their lives, they lack the patience or the will, so they need to believe that quick fixes work.
  • People have a generally shallow understanding of the principles that generate results, especially the connection between effort, persistence and success.

What does work? The effective solutions to change your life generally follow the same one fundamental pattern: they involve continuous personal development. They involve changing the outcome by improving your skills, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors in an active, gradual, constant and strategic way.

Continuous personal development promises to change your life, starting now but not in a moment. And there is one trait it has that quick fixes do not: it really, truly works.

Although the interest in changing one’s life is a wide spread one, the interest in continuous personal development is much narrower. So if you have this interest, and you don’t allow yourself to be tempted by the promise to change your life today, now, forever – my congratulations!

The Key to Become Charismatic and What Is CBT

I’m happy to announce that today, not one, but two of my guest articles have been posted: one is “The key to become charismatic” and it’s on Change Your Thoughts, the personal development blog of Steven Aitchison.

You can read it here.

The other is “What is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?” and it’s on A Daring Adventure, the personal development blog of Tim Brownson.

You can read it here.

I was impressed by the quality both Steve and Tim have in their writing, and how they have each developed their unique, powerful communication style. Writing and expressing some of my ideas on their blogs is an important step forward for me.

I think you will find “What is CBT?” to be a short but relevant guide for understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a personal development tool I use a lot in my work as a communication coach. And I’m willing to bet the ideas in “The key to become charismatic” are going to… hit you.


Forget Achieving Life Balance and Try This Instead

Life balance is a weird idea for many, and especially those who want success or are into personal development will scratch their heads thinking about it. I just can’t imagine Bill Gates or Michael Jordan focusing on achieving life balance and still ending up where they are.

Yet, there seems to be something to this idea, as a lot of people with one-dimensional lives end up suffering from burnout or being unhappy. So, what’s the key to this riddle?

I think the whole concept of life balance is misguiding. It basically refers to splitting your time and your focus in a balanced way between o couple of major areas of you life: career, family and personal time usually. The premise is that ignoring one of these areas is dangerous and will end up making you feel miserable.

The big problem I have with this concept of life balance is that it treats these areas of life as ends in themselves. I see them as means to an end. And I see the end as… needs balance.

We humans, as evolved beings, have a couple of major needs. Here’s a way of splitting them up, of the top of my mind:

  • The basic needs for food, water, shelter, and adequate climate;
  • The need to be healthy and fit, psychically and mentally;
  • The need for learning and personal development;
  • The need for rest, relaxation and recreation;
  • The need to interact socially, to connect with others;
  • The need to achieve and to impact the world we live in.

The essence of a fulfilling life is in my perspective not balancing the areas of our life, but balancing taking care of these needs. And even this balance is a somewhat relative one, as the exact intensity of every one of those sets of needs will not be the same for a person.

The good news is that the world we life in offers many lifestyle options. We can create for ourselves all kinds of balanced or unbalanced combinations of activities related to career, family, hobbies, and end up achieving this relative needs balance. It’s really about fulfillment by finding those activities that allow you to make the most out of them and out of you.

Think of a person who is a book critic, and gets learning and personal development ideas by reading books, while also making money and impacting people by reviewing them. Two birds with one shot. Right now, I’m thinking of my salsa instructor whose job description involves a lot of going to salsa parties, dancing and socializing. Pretty cool, ha?

I believe you can even get needs balance without having a family, and you can get needs balance without having a job. At the same time, balancing the major life areas sometimes has a lot of chances of not creating needs balance.

This is why focusing on life balance can end up making you feel like there’s something missing in your life, and frustrated cause you don’t know why. Instead, focus on a personal needs balance rather then the development of life balance, and I think you’ll be just fine.

Sometimes Forgiveness Isn’t the Answer

This guy I know, he has a habit of making fun of other people he knows in various social contexts (parties, discussions, meetings etc.). My theory is he does this mostly to attract attention and show off. A while later, he will be talking to the person he made brutal fun of and saying: “I hope you didn’t take my jokes seriously. I was just having some fun. I’m sorry if they affected you!

This is his way of asking for forgiveness, which almost always works. I know that forgiveness is seen across the globe as a virtue, but I think there are cases in which it’s a weakness people can use to manipulate you. This is one of those cases.

Forgiveness is a complicated and slippery word. Its exact meaning is hard to pin down. What does a person mean exactly when she is asking forgiveness? Is it just an emotional thing? The way I see it, she is actually asking for 3 things, the last 2 things being a bit more subtle. She is asking that:

  • You don’t feel bad or angry at her for what she did;
  • You don’t form a negative perception about her for what she did;
  • You don’t change your behavior towards her in a negative way.

The first part, I think it’s a good idea. Whenever someone does something towards you that you don’t like, get over it emotionally as fast as possible. Not for that person, but for you. The other two, well, that’s where I have a problem with forgiveness.

When the guy I was talking about asks for forgiveness, he is actually saying “Don’t’ feel bad”, but he is also saying “Don’t think of me as a mean person” and “Don’t stop being my friend or helping me, just because I made fun of you repeatedly”. Doesn’t it sound like an arrogant, selfish and absurd request when you put it this way?

People fall into this trap every day. Because we are taught that if a person is really sorry for something she did, she apologizes and seems to be hurting, then we owe her as decent human beings to forgive her (according to the definition of forgiveness presented above).

We don’t. Talking in terms of equity, it is natural and effective to change your perception about a person’s character depending on her consistent behavior patterns, as well as your own behavior towards her. It’s how things go with mature, responsible people.

Asking forgiveness is often just a way for a person to not assume true responsibility for her behavior and its consequences.

My advice: whenever a person repeatedly asks forgiveness from you for a repeated behavior, give her just the first part of forgiveness. And tell her that. Let her know that you got over they way she acted, but it does influence your perception of her and your behavior towards her. And if she doesn’t like that, let her give some forgiveness.

Knowing What Others Think and Feel: You Don’t

Him: “My boss doesn’t like me.

Me: “How do you know?

Him: “I know it. I can tell.

Me: “Really? How?

Him: “I just can. It’s a gut feeling.

Me: “So you’re a mind reader now…

It amazes me how confident people are when it comes to telling what other people are thinking and feeling from subtle behavioral cues. Especially if it’s about them, and it’s negative. Even the people who otherwise are not very confident.

I used to do this. When it came to other people, I prided myself on being a very good “mind reader”. Over time, I changed my perspective about that. Sure, there are cues, there are non-verbal signals, there are readable emotions. But the bottom line: mind reading involves a lot of guess work passing as skill.

Why do we generally trust our ideas about what others think and feel so much? Personally, I blame it a lot on trusting to much our feelings/ intuition. We say to ourselves “This person doesn’t like me” or “This person thinks I’m an idiot” and we get a feeling of certainty associated with that thought, a subjective validation. Then we say to ourselves “I know it!

No you don’t! Your intuition about this kind of stuff can only be trusted if it’s very well in tune with the objective reality around you. Which most probably, it’s not. Because more probably, your intuition filters your judgments through a couple of deep routed irrational beliefs such as:

  • People don’t like me.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • People are bad and mean.

So what comes out as your intuition about other people’s thoughts and feelings is based more on what’s inside than on what’s inside: your beliefs, your need for certainty and for an excuse regarding various aspects. Intuition can be a powerful thing to have and to use, but only if it’s not “polluted”.

The human psychic is a complex system of thoughts, wants and feelings, which manifest externally in a complex system of behaviors and subtle cues. Reading them accurately is just as complicated. This is why I’m a skeptic when it comes to good “mind reading” skills. The fact of the matter is, there are exactly 3524 things a person might be thinking or feeling in a certain situation, half of which have nothing to do with you.

So next time, instead of guessing what someone is thinking or feeling, try letting go of the need for certainty and admitting you simply don’t know. Or better yet, just ask her. You may actually get an honest answer.

Avoid Manipulation by Understanding Your Emotional Buttons

One thing I’ve been realizing with a lot of clarity in the past few years is how people can easily manipulate you if they’re capable of pushing the right emotional buttons. They seem to get you to feel bad if you don’t do things their way. You feel without choice, you feel trapped and you’re looking for a way out…

Your emotional buttons are closely related to your social needs. We all want to be loved, accepted, approved by others. These are normal, healthy human needs. But when these needs become very strong, very intense, they’re no longer healthy and they take over our lives. They become strong emotional buttons other people can push to manipulate us.

One client of mine was constantly manipulated by her boss when she had a request of him. Whenever her boss anticipated that she wanted to ask for something, he made her feel selfish and bad for it in advance. By saying things like “You always want something! Everybody wants stuff from me around here!” She often felt so bad that she ended up ignoring her wants and not making her requests, even though they were justified.

Her very strong need not to be seen as selfish, her dependency of other people’s approval was one big red emotional button for others to push. As she became more aware of this, as part of improving her people skills, she started recognizing the situations in which this dependency was getting the better of her and stared actively fighting it.

If you can think of situations with various people in which you feel trapped, than it’s time to ask yourself: “Which are my emotional buttons?” Look carefully at these situations one at a time, notice your emotions in each one and try to understand what specific words and behaviors the other person uses seem to trigger them. Analyze the data like a detective and look for the patterns.

In time, this exercise of observation and introspection will make you more aware of your emotional buttons, you very strong social needs and how they can be used in manipulating you. Maybe you’ll discover that:

  • You have a strong, dependency-like need to be approved by those close to you;
  • You can’t stand to lose someone’s respect, no matter who that person is;
  • You feel intimidated by people with a high social or professional status.

For every person, there is a specific combination of specific needs and vulnerabilities relating to others. Knowing and understanding them is the first important step in learning to avoid manipulation and getting more control over your own life.

Then comes the second important step: addressing and gradually changing your emotional reactions, your communication style and your behavior. It takes time, the right tools and consistent effort, but the options these improved people skills give you definitely make it worth your while.