August 17, 2022

Information is control. Or so the myth says…

A couple of months ago, I received a “positive” test result for cancer. I was referred by my doctor to a specialist who would need to do further tests and offer a proper diagnosis. “Don’t be worried,” I was told. “This could be nothing.”

Now, after going through the cancer journey with my wife, you can imagine what my initial head/heart response was. It was genuine panic. And a rush of questions.

  • What does this mean?
  • What will I do if this gets confirmed?
  • How will I take care of my kids if I have cancer?

And on and on and on…

But I was able to stop myself and practice the principles that I’ve been learning. 

Breathe. Focus on the present. The only reality is now. Get neutral. Maximize the moment I have.

Did it make the situation better? Nope. But it certainly made my response better.

And it did a funny/unexpected thing.

I found myself releasing the need for information. I didn’t “need” the answers. This was especially significant because I couldn’t get to the specialist until early August any way. 

Why do I call this out this detail? Because there is a saying out there that says information is control. And I’m calling that a complete and utter myth.

Information may give us a sense of control, but it’s artificial at best.

The information may be wrong and the outcome will be nothing we expect. The information may be right, and the outcome can still be unpredictable. The information may be evolving (unbeknownst to us), and the outcome will very likely change.

There is no “control” created by the information. The only thing the information creates is a smaller sense of helplessness. We confuse that sense of lesser stress with the idea that we are somehow “now in control.” Somehow, we train ourselves to feel/think that acquiring information will provide the control we seek.

In other words, we seek information to either (a) shrink our sense of helplessness to a level that we can accept or (b) validate the helplessness we are feeling so that we can justify the fear-based decision that our amygdala is screaming for us to make.

Now, I’m not saying that information is bad or unnecessary. Information is incredibly helpful – and even desirable – to a point.

But what if we could untether our response from the information that is/is not available to us?

What if we could shrink our sense of helplessness without access to the information we are scrambling to collect?

What if we could slow down our stress response (maybe even eliminate it) and trust the journey to play itself out?

What if we could use information as just a snapshot through a soda straw (a tiny glimpse of only one portion of the bigger picture) and not the actual story?

What if indeed…

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS I completed the follow-up exam and got the results this past week. I was told “pre-cancerous growth” and I will have it removed next month.

PPS Mirror moment: Did you need that last bit of information? Did it somehow make you feel calmer knowing that I don’t have a cancer diagnosis? If you are saying yes, what does that tell you?

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July 13, 2022

What trauma teaches us about stress…

Sorry for the silence. I’ve been traveling like crazy (which incudes literally going around the world for business) and… I’ve also been doing some work on myself. Maybe it was subconsciously inspired by the concept of vulnerabilities that I explored in my last post, but I found myself digging into the extreme forms of stress that make me feel most vulnerable… namely, grief and trauma.

What is possibly one of the most powerful concepts I discovered was that the core feeling driving trauma (and I would offer both grief and stress are equally included) is the feeling of helplessness.

This is profound on so many levels (ping me if you want to spend some time going down that rabbit hole), but in order to provide a reasonable focus to this post, let me get to a very fine point: the root cause of our stress-inducing fears is when we feel helpless

More specifically, when we feel helpless to achieve success (or to avoid failure), we feel stress.

When we feel helpless to achieve significance (or to avoid rejection), we feel stress.

When we feel helpless to achieve control (or to avoid the unknown), we feel stress.

Good stress doesn’t leave us feeling helpless. Bad stress certainly does. And to make matters worse, stress (and grief) becomes traumatic when it passes the tipping point of our personal tolerance level of helplessness.

Here is where it gets really fascinating for me: the strength of that helplessness is going to be driven by what Martin Seligman called the 3 P’s:

  • Personalization: The belief that we are at fault
  • Permanence: The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever
  • Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life

In other words, our chosen beliefs drive our sense of helplessness. Which means that our greatest vulnerability to stress – and our greatest source of incredible resilience – is our learned mindset regarding helplessness.

If/when we believe that helplessness is “my fault” or will “last forever” or will “affect everything” – well… nothing good will come of it. We will become stressed and stay there. Reliving the stress/grief/trauma as long as we feel helpless about how personal/permanent/pervasive the experience is.

But if/when we believe that helplessness is simply a part of everyone’s Life experience, that it will regularly show up (and disappear), and that there are still positive, powerful elements to our lives beyond the junk we have to deal with – well… we become resilient as hell.

We rise above the situation.

Stress becomes a short-term experience, if we experience that kind of stress at all.

And we then have the ability to be the best version of ourselves.

Which is what the Journey is all about, isn’t it?

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS If this post triggered some deeper thoughts and/or feelings for you, please reach out to me directly. I genuinely care – and I would be honored to walk part of your journey with you.

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April 26, 2022

Aren’t you afraid of the risk?

I bought a car this past weekend. A brand new one. And the experience was almost perfect.

Except for one thing.

And I knew it was coming… the high pressure sales attempt at the end when the Finance Manager (aka the final sales person) pushes to sell a host of extra “protections.”

So, I listened politely to all of his explanations, then simply said, “no.”

And then the pressure kicked in. I stopped counting his manipulation techniques after 5 and simply said, “Thanks, but I decline. Do I need to sign anything to confirm that?”

He then said to me these classic words, “Aren’t you afraid of the risk?”

Okay. Hit the pause button of this story – because there is soooooo much to unpack here.

First of all, let’s define “risk.”

I recently heard an absolute gem of a definition on The Knowledge Project podcast from an interview with General Stanley McChrystal. He laid out this beautiful equation: Threats x Vulnerabilities = Risk.

You see, I had always considered threats to be the SAME as risks. But they are NOT!

The key to a threat being a risk is the vulnerability. Without the vulnerability, there is no risk.

So while a Siberian tiger may be a massive threat, if it is contained behind fortified plexiglass it becomes a zoo attraction. Not a risk. 

Conversely, a little honey bee can be something to watch with childlike wonder as it explores a blossom, unless the observer is allergic to the bee’s sting. The little bee suddenly becomes a serious risk.

Which then got me thinking about stress.

Threats to our success, significance, and control can only stress us out when we are vulnerable to failure, rejection, and the unknown.

If we take away the vulnerability, we take away the stress.

Which is what the Finance Manager was clearly hoping I would not do.

But I was buying a brand of car that is very well-known for its reliability. And I was buying a model that is very well-known for its ruggedness. The very idea of needing extra protection (in addition to the warranty that comes with a brand new car) was purely based on the idea that I was vulnerable – not the car.

Read that again. The key vulnerability is… me.

And that, my friends, is what I leave you with. What vulnerabilities exist simply because of… you?

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS I didn’t buy any extras. And when we got past that, the Finance Manager changed the conversation to talk about how great the car is. And then we started talking about how proud we both are of our kids…

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April 10, 2022

Something for leaders…

Leaders, I need to talk with you for a moment.

In the podcast that I shared previously, I brought up the idea that – as leaders – we are responsible to create an environment of peak performance, to build a space where our people can flourish and be their best and ultimately produce their best outcomes.

We destroy that mission when we push success, significance, and/or control.

Let me explain.

Success is a word we casually throw around. Is it desirable? Of course it is. Is it guaranteed? Not at all.

How often have we seen the goal posts move, the situation change, the stakeholders change their minds?

All we can genuinely promise is to do our best, right?

And yet, time and again, how often do we stress about the risk of failure? How often do we allow the fear of anything remotely off-target cause us to double down on better-than-perfect execution?

The same could be said about the significance/rejection trap and the control/risk trap. We eventually become so attached to the outcomes of success/significance/control that we – and our teams – stress as soon as they POTENTIALLY move out of our grasp. Sadly, this creates the temptation for us to lead out of fear – which is never good (and generates even more unwanted stress).

As leaders, we have to be different.

We have to drive confidence, acceptance, and trust into our teams. We have to make those three things the foundation of our culture. Because when we establish the primacy of doing our best, accepting ourselves, and trusting the journey, we minimize the fear that so often infects the most important decisions.

Pause.

This is a MAJOR point, so I’ll say it again. When we push success/significance/control into our teams, we allow the fears of failure/rejection/risk to have undesirable access to every decision we make. Especially when we are not in the room.

In this state, we teach our players that it’s better to make “safe” decisions, not the best decisions. We teach them that it’s better to avoid blame, than to accept opportunity. And ultimately, we teach them it’s okay to drag others down whenever others seek to do something “different.”

Now, hear me again, I am not saying that achieving success, being recognized for the effort, and having things go as planned are wrong or undesirable. What I am saying is that those things need to be the outcome of confidence, acceptance, and trust – not the other way around.

In other words, when we use confidence/acceptance/trust to make our foundation strong and level, we can build on it. But when we build without this proper foundation, we are only building something that will eventually fall over.

(PS – the exact same thing applies to us as parents…)

I mua. Onward and upward.

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March 20, 2022

Something a little different…

This week, instead of writing something, I am sharing an interview I did for the awesome people at Selling from the Heart. Larry Levine and Darrell Amy are two, high-quality human beings who are elevating the definition of what it means to be authentic in business. I was honored to join them as a guest on their podcast and dive into this whole stress thing.

Here is the link to the episode. If you want to skip the sales stuff, jump to the 11:00 mark and run til about the 33:00 mark. Of course, you can always listen to the whole thing… 😉

I REALLY REALLY hope you will give 22 minutes to give it a listen. I genuinely think it will be worth your time. And if you have any feedback (or even questions) about what I shared, please let me know!

I mua. Onward and upward.

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March 13, 2022

How to break the addiction of control

I cringe every time I hear the word “control.”

Of course, as any good non-conformist/independent thinker, I hate the idea of being controlled.

And while I may lie to myself and say that I need to be the one in control, I only have to look at my own past to see the many ways that my control has either hurt me or hurt others. Hail, Caesar, indeed…

The reality is that control is a myth. It does not exist. As I often say/rant, you can’t control the weather, traffic, your neighbors, etc. And if we are really honest, we can’t control our tongues.

But some will protest: “control the controllables!” I wish that were true. But we are as much the victims of Life’s currents as we are the navigators of them.

And that is the key. We navigate. We harmonize. We see what is most likely and take calculated risks.

And here is when the addiction kicks in.

If we have been hurt, especially by something (or someone) out of our control, we accept the illusion that if only we had navigated better, if only we had been looking for the risks, if only we had established better control…

Sigh.

The fear of risk becomes a wicked fuel for the unquenchable fire of control. And unquenchable it is. Once we commit ourselves to it, we can never have enough control – because risk will never completely go away.

And this endless control/risk cycle sparks anew the moment we are broadsided by the unknown.

What are we to do?

I have learned only one way to get out of the control/risk cycle. And that is to trust. Trust the journey. Trust that you have what it takes to navigate it. And trust that there are others who are in your corner and who want to see you thrive.

To the control addict, this is incredibly hard. How do you trust others when trust has already been broken? How do you trust your abilities when your own instincts failed you? How do you trust the journey when all it did was leave you shipwrecked?

I wish I could offer a guaranteed answer. But all I can offer is a simple choice: faith or fear?

Faith extends from the love abundance deep inside of us. And faith allows us to trust that love. Faith allows us to enter a serving mindset, where we serve our way through the unknown.

Fear extends from a different place. It comes from the love deficit deep inside of us. Fear capitalizes on that void and gnaws at us from the inside out. Fear drives us toward a survival mindset, where we push our own survival above everything – and everyone – else.

So, here’s the big question: Are you a control addict? What does your gut say to you? 

And here’s the bigger question: Can you allow trust to take over? Can you let go of the control you are desperately seeking and believe that the journey is good, that you have what it takes, and that there are others who are more than willing to help you?

Let me know if you want to talk through your answers. I have wrestled with the very same feelings/thoughts – and sometimes still do.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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February 20, 2022

How to break the addiction of significance

Of the three most common causes of stress – the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and the fear of risk – which one is your biggest trigger?

For me, it’s the fear of rejection. Which makes it particularly tough to be truly vulnerable. And is a major reason why I have put off writing this post for weeks.

You see, my fear of being rejected causes me to avoid anything that will expose me in some way to negativity. It also causes me to do anything that will boost my significance. Most often, that is expressed in my professional life. I work really hard to “prove my worth” and “build my brand.”

Now, I’m not saying that positively contributing and having a solid reputation are bad things. But when you put them into the hands of an addict – well.

Fundamentally, I have come to learn that I will never be sufficiently significant. I will never reach a point where I can say, “that’s enough recognition.” At least, not while I allow my fear of rejection to have any strength.

And how am I dealing with this? I don’t know if it will ever go away, but I have found that my fear is shrinking dramatically as I invest in a completely different motion: accepting myself just as I am.

In other words, significance versus rejection is a false debate. Neither one of them really matters. No matter what I do, some people will think I’m awesome. And equally true, no matter what I do, some people will think I’m a jerk.

But people don’t define who I am. I do. And if I define who I am, then I have the ability to accept who I am.

If I choose to do this.

And what does that look like?

It looks like empathy for the journey I have taken. It looks like the recognition that no one is perfect and acknowledging that includes me. It looks like the peace that comes from fully loving myself because I have been fully loved.

When I do these things, I can accept myself. And my fear of rejection shrivels like a weed in the bright summer sun.

And then, I can fully accept others in a way I have never done before.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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January 16, 2022

How to break the addiction of success

Are you addicted to success?

In other words, is your confidence dependent on whether or not you are successful?

And if you are a leader, is your team’s confidence dependent on whether or not they are successful – because you have mandated success for all of their efforts? If they fail – at anything – how will you respond?

Because addictions do that. They go from affecting us as individuals to affecting all of our relationships. An addiction to alcohol never “only” affects the individual. An addiction to gambling never “only” affects the individual. An addiction to success never “only” affects the individual.

What does an addiction to success look like? Perhaps the most basic symptom is a nagging feeling of meaninglessness whenever the emotional high of success is not present. It’s the sense of dissatisfaction that eventually replaces the euphoria of winning. The bigger the addiction to success, the greater the sense of discontent. With ourselves and with our teams.

And in this state of addiction, we then immediately seek the next major achievement. The next pinnacle. The next high.

The problem with this pursuit is that it is relentless. And it will require even greater amounts of energy, resources, and time. At the expense of giving them to the relationships that matter most. At the expense of our team mates. At the expense of our partner. At the expense of our children. Or maybe at the expense of our health – making us suddenly weak and dependent on everyone.

Addictions never “only” affect the individual.

So, how do we break the cycle? As I mentioned in my last blog, to break the addiction to success, we have to learn how to attach confidence to our efforts. We have to make success dependent on our confidence – not the other way around.

We have to learn how to be comfortable doing our best – and letting that define us. We become known less for our achievements and become known more for our dedication. Known for our discipline. Known for our patience with others as we allow (and encourage) them to do their best.

This is not easy because authentic confidence requires vulnerability and openness. It requires that we stop trying to protect ourselves from failure. Instead, we embrace failure as part of the journey. We even accept the failure of others as part of the journey. Their journey. Which, by the way, is not our responsibility. We don’t have to make sure that they are successful, because their journey belongs to them, not us – even if our addiction screams otherwise.

Here is the crazy part, though. When we release others from success/failure as we do the same thing for ourselves, we increase the chances of positive outcomes. We increase the likelihood that our efforts will produce wonderful results. They just may not be the specific result we had targeted.

A failure becomes a life-changing lesson.

A failure becomes a breakthrough innovation.

A failure becomes a beautiful relationship.

All because we let confidence – doing our best and allowing others to do their best – lead the way.

I mua. Onward and upward, my friend.

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January 9, 2022

And now, some practical advice

Are you ready for some practical advice on how to eliminate the stress in your life?

Because while I have been laying down a foundation for the “why” and the “what” of stress, it was all necessary to get to the “how” of eliminating stress. So, let’s dive in.

Consider something that is causing you stress right now. It could be a relationship. It could be a situation. It could even be your own personal weakness.

Write it down. Give it a full sentence. “My (relationship/situation/weakness) is causing me stress.”

Now, let’s begin the advice part.

After your sentence, write the word “because…”

Have you done it? I’m serious; write it down before you go any further.

Now, pause.

What are you attaching to the relationship/situation/weakness? And specifically, I mean are you attaching one or more of the following:

  • Success?
  • Significance?
  • Control?

My own pressure test is to change the question slightly and ask myself:

  • Am I afraid of failing? (This is the direct result of attaching success)
  • Am I afraid of being rejected? (This is the direct result of attaching significance)
  • Am I afraid of risk/the unknown? (This is the direct result of attaching control)

If you get a yes to any of this, write it down after “because…” It would be something like this: “My (relationship/situation/weakness) is causing me stress because I am afraid of (failing/being rejected/unknown risk) and that will hurt me.”

This is the cause of your stress. Not the relationship. Not the situation. Not your weakness.

The cause of our stress is what we attach to it.

In other words, when we attach success/failure, significance/rejection, or control/risk to the moment, it makes the relationship, situation, weakness stressful. Think about that for a moment. If the situation isn’t going to lead to failure, rejection, or risk, would you still be stressed? I’m going to guess the answer is “no.”

Ready for an extra bit of advice?

This bit, for me, is huge. It has been THE key to minimizing – and even eliminating – stress in my life.

Instead of attaching success, attach confidence – the confidence that I am doing my best. Then success and failure don’t matter. Because I am doing my best. And my best is all that I can do.

Instead of attaching significance, attach acceptance – the acceptance of my full self (the beautiful and the ugly). Then significance and rejection don’t matter. Because I am not looking for other people to validate me. And who I am right now is enough.

Instead of attaching control, attach trust – the trust that I will get through this. Then control and risk don’t matter. Because I trust that I will somehow get through this. And I have what it takes to thrive when it’s over.

There’s plenty more to unpack, but that’s enough for now.

I mua. Onward and upward, my friend.

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December 26, 2021

Are you trying to satisfy your past or satisfy your future?

Are you the kind of person who makes New Year resolutions?

I am. And I am not.

I typically use the end of each year to slow down, reflect, and assess my life – end to end. If that annual reflection produces a resolution, fine. If not, fine. You see, it’s less about finding “something to change” and more about staying committed to the process. My process is driven by a question I learned decades ago: 30 years from now, what will matter most?

It’s a powerful question – and to be honest – it’s a question I have to constantly remind myself to ask beyond my annual ritual.

Because the “now” is SOOOO incredibly full/busy/chaotic/fun/dissatisfying/etc. “Now” is such an easy distraction.

But I am learning that my definition of now is actually neither present nor very mindful. My definition of now is actually tethered to my past. And the happiness I am pursuing is unconsciously biased to satisfy my past – not my future.

What I mean by this is that my ability to feel/think is limited to the neural pathways in my brain. And as I discussed in my last post, those neural pathways were often developed and reinforced by shame and blame. And if I am not careful, everything that I feel/think will be biased toward fixing something that, frankly, no longer exists.

In other words, I will try to be successful to prove that I didn’t fail. I will try to be significant to prove that I was worthy. I will try to be in control to prove that I will never be hurt by the unexpected again. That actually generates a lot of unintended stress.

And as the Teacher said, it’s all meaningless.

So, my resolution for this year (and for many, many more) is to make a powerful shift from satisfying my past to satisfying my future. That beautiful, hope-filled future that is literally overflowing with possibility.

And to feel/think accordingly.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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