Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lesson 13: Your expectations will usually come true.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
—Michael Jordan

It’s called the Pygmalion Effect—also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy—and it’s real. If we expect a positive outcome, we’ll probably get it. If we expect a negative outcome, it’s likely to happen.
A lot of research has been done on school children in this area. Robert Rosenthal and Lenoir Jacobson performed studies at elementary schools where teachers were given the names of a select group of high-achieving students. The teachers were told that because these kids were so intelligent, they would probably excel over their lower-performing classmates.
Sure enough, those smart kids performed like smart kids. They got good grades, and they generally showed significant improvement on end-of-the-year tests. There was only one catch: the “smart” kids weren’t really any smarter than the others. In fact, they had been chosen completely at random.
The real difference had been the expectations of the teachers—and as a result, their treatment of the students. Later studies have confirmed this effect in adults as well.
Your expectations become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. This applies to events both big and small. The reason is simple: if you really believe that you will do a great job, your subconscious mind will guide your behavior to be consistent with that belief, and you will indeed be an outstanding employee, student, or whatever.
If, on the other hand, you view yourself as not being good at something, you’ll have no motivation to improve. What would be the point? You know you can’t do it, so why waste your time trying to get better?
Do you see where this is going? Just knowing about the self-fulfilling prophecy can be a tremendous help to you in your life. Remember: you have complete control over your own thinking. It naturally follows that you have control over your own expectations.
So what’s it going to be? You can expect misfortune—and almost certainly bring it on—or you can expect great things from yourself. Just remember that you have no one but yourself to blame for your own expectations.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lesson 12: Be flexible—to a point.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour.
—Unknown

When I was in graduate school, a professor gave me a criticism which I took to be a backhanded compliment. “The problem with you, young man,” he said, “is that you’re always trying to change the rules to suit you.”
Obviously, we can’t always change the rules to our liking. The fact that we don’t agree with something doesn’t mean we can ignore it. You may think the speed limit is unreasonably low on a certain road, but if you speed on that road, you’ll still get a ticket. Many, many circumstances are totally beyond your ability to direct. Your success or failure under those circumstances will depend largely on your response to them—in other words, you have to adapt.
Here are a few examples. Let’s say you want a particular job, but it goes to the boss’s nephew instead. Maybe you’re in love with someone and want to marry him or her, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. Perhaps the company you work for goes out of business, and you lose your job. A loved one dies. You’re injured in an auto accident or suffer a serious disease. The list of possible scenarios is endless.
These are the proverbial cards that you have been dealt. You can’t trade them in for another hand; you must play the cards you have right now. Now is when you must adapt. Recognize the reality and respond accordingly.
George Washington is one of my favorite historical figures. Perhaps his greatest trait was his ability to see a situation as it really was, not as he wished it to be. His actions were guided largely by the situation itself: he planned his moves to make the best possible use of the circumstances, and wherever possible, he tried to turn those circumstances to his advantage.
You can do the same thing. It’s a two-step process. First, view every situation through realistic eyes. Don’t kid yourself. Second, shape your response to make the most of the circumstances.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should give up your personal autonomy or allow yourself to be tossed and turned like a boat without a rudder. No sailor can control the wind, but a good sailor uses the existing wind to sail to the destination of his own choosing.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lesson 11: Be bold.

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Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

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Freedom lies in being bold.
—Robert Frost

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When my sister Nancy was about thirteen, our mother took her on a trip to Washington, DC to see the monuments and visit the museums. One museum housed a temporary exhibit of rocks that had been collected by astronauts during a NASA moon mission. Nancy and Mom saved this exhibit for the last day of their trip.
When they arrived at the exhibit hall, they were met with a sign that read “Moon Rock Exhibit Temporarily Closed.” My sister was deeply disappointed; this was to have been the highlight of the trip. But my mother was not to be denied. She made it clear that she had come to see the moon rocks, and she was going in, regardless of the sign.
“Mom!” Nancy protested. “Can’t you read? You’ll get in trouble; you might get arrested!” It made no difference. Mom strolled past the sign and into the deserted hall. A few minutes later, Nancy was horrified to see her mother being escorted out by a burly security guard who politely but firmly reminded the little lady that the exhibit was closed.
“See?” Nancy said. “I told you you’d get in trouble!”
“Well,” Mom replied with a quiet smile. “I saw the moon rocks.”
Get the point? My mom was bold, and she was successful in her quest. My sister held back, and she didn’t get to see the moon rocks.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I should have done so-and-so?” Boldness will keep you from ever having to say that.
You can express boldness in every aspect of your life, whether it be big or small. If you want to do something—as long as it’s legal and worthwhile—do it. If you want a different job or a graduate degree, make up your mind to go for it. If you’re in a karaoke club and want to sing, then sing! If you care about someone, don’t be afraid to express how you feel.
Live the life that you want to live. Don’t be held back by some notion that you aren’t good enough, or that you might fail or be embarrassed. Don’t let fear keep you from doing what you want to do.
Be bold, my friend, and you will never have to live with regret.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lesson 10: Forgive, for your own sake.

 
Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.



To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee.
—William Walton


Without a doubt, there will be many times in your life when others will do you wrong in some way or other. Some of these wrongs will be accidental, others deliberate. Some will be monsters—life-changers that will hurt deeply and cause major heartaches.
The people who commit these wrongs will be as varied as the acts themselves. Coworkers, friends, relatives—there’s no telling where hurtful events can originate. The most painful source is close family members—a parent, spouse, or sibling. Worst of all, you yourself may be the source of an unspeakable action that hurts those you love.
Forgive. As hard as it is, forgive. Forgive everyone. Forgive them for every wrong.
Most important, forgive yourself. Until you forgive, you can’t truly move forward. And you must move forward.
Your life lies in the future, not the past. Don’t let the past hold you back. There’s nothing you can do about the past—it’s gone, and you can never bring it back. The only time period you have any control over is the time that’s ahead.
Going back and rehashing past wrongs is a frustrating, useless exercise that does nobody any good. It’s like picking at a scab. The way to heal a wound is to leave it alone and let time and nature do their work.
What is forgiveness? It is a genuine, deep-down, permanent release from any harsh feelings, resentment, or anger. You’ve heard people say, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” Well, that’s not really forgiveness at all. Forgive and forget. It’s not easy, but you must do it—for your own sake as well as others’.
It’s true: carrying a grudge really is like being stung to death by a single bee. What’s more, these are self-inflicted wounds; the person carrying the grudge keeps stinging himself.
Forgiveness carries the tremendous power to heal and to liberate at the same time. Stop stinging yourself. Forgive, and get on with your life. And when you are wronged in the future, forgive again, and again, and again. Leave the past behind, and keep moving ahead.



Friday, June 13, 2014

Lesson 9: The Golden Rule works.

Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
—Christianity: Luke 6:31

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
—Buddhism: Udana-Varga 5:18

Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
—Confucianism: Analects 15:23

None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
—Islam: Number 13 of Imam,
"Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."

...Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
—Judaism: Leviticus 19:18 


Every major world religion contains a version of what we call the Golden Rule. Just take a glance at the quotes above, and you’ll get an idea of how universal this concept is. There’s a reason for this: it works.
Let’s be honest: we do everything—and I mean everything—to serve our own self-interest. That’s not a bad thing; it’s the way we are wired, the way nature intended it. And it’s what makes the Golden Rule so perfect.
You know exactly how you would like to be treated. You know how it feels to be treated with respect. You know the kind of service you want in a restaurant, the loyalty you want from your friends, the kind of love you want from your family. In every aspect of life, you have a picture of how you’d like to have others “do unto you.”
Now, just reverse the roles. Put yourself in that other person's place. It’s a strikingly simple concept—even a schoolchild can understand it—but it’s a decidedly grown-up thing to actually pull off. It doesn’t work for kids because they are virtually incapable of placing another person’s needs above their own. Adults, on the other hand, have the maturity to make this noble leap—although some never do.
Here’s where your own self-interest comes in. Just because you know how you’d like to be treated and are capable of putting yourself in another person’s moccasins, that doesn’t mean that you automatically treat others in the way you’d like to be treated. You might have to give up a hard-earned advantage, take partial blame for something you feel is not your fault, or be nice to a person you don’t really like. In order for you to live the Golden Rule all the time, it would have to be clearly in your best interest to do so.
It is. By treating your fellow humans as you wish to be treated, you increase your own chances of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, whether it be a fifty-year marriage to your soul mate or a thirty-minute encounter with a waitress at a lunch counter.
So, take that leap. Give up an advantage now and then. Accept the blame. Be nice to that person you can’t stand. The rewards will come back to you as surely as a boomerang does. Believe it, and it will happen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lesson 8: Time flies—even when you’re not having fun.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

Too soon old, too late smart.
—Old Pennsylvania Dutch saying
This is not a complicated concept, but it’s deep, and most people never wake up to it until late in life.
The great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Truer words were never spoken. Life speeds by in the blink of an eye, and the older you get, the faster it seems to go.
In what will seem like two weeks, you’re going to be old. I don’t mean two weeks older than you are now; I mean old. Even as you read the words on this page, you are hurtling inescapably toward old age. Short of dying early, there’s nothing you can do to stop the process.
Most young people don’t really understand that today’s old fuddy-duddies are yesterday’s young punks. The reverse, of course, is that you are tomorrow’s old fuddy-duddy. Between now and then, you’ll probably have a series of jobs and eventually retire; possibly marry and have children and grandchildren of your own; make a fortune and probably spend most of it; and experience great excitement, great boredom, great joy, and great anguish.
In short, what happens between now and old age is the great adventure of life. Relish it, savor it, enjoy every moment. Imagine the things you’ll learn, the wisdom you’ll gain, the lives you’ll touch with each passing day and year. And the process doesn’t stop once you reach old age; the adventure continues until your final breath.
But there’s another secret here that you shouldn’t miss. The process of growing old is the process of living, which is to say that it is a wonderful and glorious process. It follows, then, that being old is not a thing to dread, but a badge of honor for a life well spent. It also follows that those who are old now have a lot to teach you.
You know that time flies. You know that it seems to go faster with each passing year. Each moment is precious; use it well. As Gandalf said in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that’s given to us.”
Decide wisely.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lesson 7: Have a set of values and live by them.



Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.





Beliefs constitute the basic stratum, that which lies deepest, in the architecture of our life. By them we live, and by the same token we rarely think of them.
—José Ortega y Gasset
Your values serve as your internal compass. They guide your actions. When you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure of what to do, your personal belief system will tell you what is right to guide your actions.
This compass will be vitally important in countless situations throughout your life, especially when you find yourself under pressure. If you have a hard-wired set of values, you’ll be more likely to act in a way that you’ll be proud of afterwards.
In order to reap those benefits later, however, you have to take some time now to define for yourself what your values are.
You already have a set of values; you just need to clarify them in your own mind. Your values have been influenced over the years by your parents, teachers, mentors, role models, and friends. But while others have a hand in the process, your values must be your own—nobody else’s.
Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers once wrote, “I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on children—certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment.” That also holds true for adults, but it has never stopped people from trying—just human nature, I guess.
So the challenge for you is to separate the beliefs that belong to others from those that are really your own. Use your best judgment and try to sort through your own biases. Just as it doesn’t make sense to simply accept your parents’ values without testing them for yourself, it also doesn’t make sense to blindly reject those values out of youthful rebelliousness or a desire for independence.
If you believe something to be true, then it doesn’t matter where you first heard it. If it’s true, it’s true. Just make sure you can reconcile that truth in your own mind.
Understand also that your values and beliefs are likely to evolve over the years. But once you are clear about what you believe, you will find that the answers to tough questions will come much more easily.