Your Personal Picture of the Future

There are three parts to a compelling personal vision: your life purpose, your picture of the future, and your values. In my last blog post, I detailed a four-step process to help you write your personal life purpose statement.

The second part of creating a compelling personal vision is to come up with your personal picture of the future. It’s never too early to start thinking about how you want to spend the rest of your life and how you might want to be remembered. My wife, Margie, and I each have a favorite activity to help people achieve this goal.

Fantasy Friday

One of Margie’s favorite phrases is “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Back when she was working on her PhD in communication, she taught an extended learning course where she came up with this writing exercise to help people turn their dreams for the future into goals. She calls the exercise “My Fantasy Friday.” Here’s how it works:

Imagine it’s a Friday ten years in the future. It’s a work day but also the beginning of the weekend. Write a paragraph that answers the following questions:

  • Where are you living, and with whom?
  • What are you doing throughout the day, hour by hour? (The more details, the better.)
  • How are you feeling—intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually?

That’s it! After you’re finished and you read what you’ve written, it may surprise you.

When Margie first came up with this activity, she suggested that we write our Fantasy Friday paragraphs separately and then share them with each other. When we compared our paragraphs, we were amazed to learn we had both been dreaming of not only living near the water but also starting our own business. We had never shared either of those ideas before. Keep in mind this was before we decided to move to San Diego and start our own company!

Write Your Own Obituary

At the risk of sounding morbid, I believe it can be helpful to think of your own obituary as your picture of the future.

I first got this idea when I read about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. As the story goes, when Albert’s brother Ludvig died in France, the French newspaper mistakenly printed an obituary for Alfred instead of Ludvig. As a result, Alfred had the unusual experience of reading his own obituary. To his dismay, the focal point of the piece was the destruction brought about through his invention. Alfred was devastated to think that was how he would be remembered. It’s believed this incident caused Alfred to set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prize so that he would be remembered for peace, not for destruction.

To determine your picture of the future, I’d like to challenge you to write your own obituary. Since this is not something you can put together as quickly as you did the draft of your life purpose (see my last blog post), I suggest you spend some time on it and then share it with loved ones—not to scare them, but to get their feedback. Ask them “Is this the way you would like to remember me?”

To give you an example, the following is an obituary I wrote about myself. When I first shared it with Margie, she thought I was getting a little dark. But then she got into it and helped me write it.

“Ken Blanchard was a loving teacher and example of simple truths whose books and speeches on leadership, management, and life helped motivate himself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives and to realize we are here to serve, not to be served. He continually inspired, challenged, and equipped people to live, love, and lead like Jesus. He was a loving child of God, son, brother, spouse, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, friend, and colleague who strove to find a balance between success, significance, and surrender. He had a spiritual peace about him that permitted him to say “no” in a loving manner to people and projects that got him off purpose. He knew full well that B.U.S.Y. stood for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. He was a person of high energy who was able to see the positive in any event. No matter what happened, he could find a learning or message in it. Ken Blanchard was someone who trusted God’s unconditional love and believed he was the Beloved. He valued integrity, walked his talk, and was a mean and lean 185-pound golfing machine. He will be missed because wherever he went, he made the world a better place.”

Okay, I’ll admit that some of the things in my obituary are goals or hoped-for outcomes, such as being able to say “no” in a loving manner to people and projects that got me off purpose. (I still have never heard a bad idea!) As for being a 185-pound mean and lean golfing machine, that is also an ongoing aspiration. Ha!

I hope you have fun writing your obituary and also writing about your Fantasy Friday. I think you’ll find both processes interesting and perhaps even learn some truths about yourself as you ponder your goals for your future.

Next time I’ll cover the final step of creating a compelling personal vision—determining your personal values. Hope you’ll join me again!

Writing Your Personal Life Purpose

It’s so easy to get caught up in our cell phones, emails, and deadlines that we often forget to step back and look at the big picture. So, as you read this, pause and ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I really want to be in the world?
  • How am I doing on that?

Just as an organization needs to have a clear purpose and sense of what business it’s in, so do individuals. Yet few people have a clear sense of their life’s purpose. How can you make good decisions about how you should use your time if you don’t know what you want to do with your life?

Here’s a simple, four-step process to help you create a good working draft of your life purpose.

Step 1: Describe Who You Are.  Think of two or three nouns or phrases that describe your unique skills or characteristics. For example, my nouns are “teacher” and “example.” You might choose different characteristics, such as artist, scientist, humorist, mechanic, writer, etc.

Step 2: Describe How You Influence Others.  Think of two or three verbs that describe how you influence the world around you. For example, my verbs are “help” and “motivate.” You might choose influence verbs such as encourage, plan, inspire, educate, etc.

Step 3: Describe Your Ideal World.  Create a picture of your ideal world. For example, in my perfect world everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives. You might have a perfect world where people are successful in achieving their goals, or children are well cared for, or the environment is healthy.

Step 4: Put It All Together. Now, create a purpose statement by combining two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your ideal world, and you’ll have a good start on a statement of your life’s purpose. For example, my life purpose is:

“To be a loving teacher and example of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives, so we realize we are here to serve rather than to be served.” 

Someone else might have a purpose that reads:

“To be a scientist and writer who encourages and inspires people to care for the natural world and preserve a healthy environment for future generations.”

Another person might have a purpose that reads:

“To be an artist and visionary who reveals a new way of seeing and awakens people to the beauty in the world around them.”

Feel free to dream big during this process.  Don’t worry about not living up to the life purpose you envision—we all fall short of our ideal. Put your fears and insecurities aside as you write. As Nelson Mandela said:

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Determining your life purpose is the first step in a three-part process to creating a compelling personal vision. In future blogs, I’ll talk about steps two and three—creating your legacy and determining your values. Stay tuned!

 

Relationships Need All the HELP They Can Get

It’s summer—the peak season for weddings, so I hear! I’ve had the honor and privilege of officiating several weddings over the past ten or twelve years, and every couple I’ve married has been excited and hopeful about their future. Realistically, though, we all know there is real work involved on both sides if two people are committed to making a marriage—or any loving relationship—succeed.

Of course, Margie and I aren’t marriage counselors, but I think because we’ve been happily married more than 57 years now, people occasionally ask us to address the topic. As a result, we’ve developed an acronym called HELP—Humor, Ego (getting rid of it), Listening, and Praising—a framework that spouses and other romantic partners can use to examine their relationship and keep it moving in a positive direction.

Humor. If there is anything that every relationship needs, it’s laughter. I’ve heard it said that a four-year-old child laughs between 200 and 300 times a day, while most adults laugh only 10 to 15 times a day. The older we get, the more serious we seem to get about life. So try taking your relationship seriously but yourself lightly. When I say something that gets a good laugh out of Margie, that makes my day. Start off every day with cheerful good humor.

Ego. Let me explain what I mean by ego—I’m not talking about self-esteem. We all need to feel good about who we are. Strong self-esteem is necessary to handle the bumps and bruises of everyday life. The ego problems I’m talking about are false pride and self-doubt. People with false pride put themselves in the center of their world and think more of themselves than they should. They think they can solve every problem alone. People with self-doubt are hard on themselves and think less of themselves than they should. They are consumed with their own shortcomings. When either kind of ego problem gets in the way of a marriage, it Edges Good Out. Don’t let that happen! Always keep your ego in check.

Listening. No matter how long you have been with your partner, it is never a bad idea to practice listening. Margie and I sometimes facilitate at marriage retreats where we put couples through a powerful listening exercise called Heart to Heart. Couples begin by sitting in chairs, facing each other, with their knees touching.

There are three rounds to this activity. During the first round, one partner shares by finishing this sentence: “Something I want you to know about me is…” The partner listening must verbally respond in one of three ways: “I understand,” “Thank you,” or “Tell me more.” Each partner takes turns sharing, with the other partner responding.

The second round is similar, but each partner shares: “A concern I have…” Once again, their mate responds in one of the three ways to each concern that is shared, and they take turns.

The final round is where each partner shares: “Something I admire about you is…” Again, their partner responds with either “I understand”, “thank you” or “tell me more” to each statement.

This exercise has been a big hit in our sessions. The couples find this to be a valuable method of communicating thoughts in an honest, nonthreatening way. Give it a try.

Praising. The concept of praise is so key in marriage relationships—particularly in keeping them strong and healthy over the years. We all know when you first fall in love, you start off catching each other doing things right. Over time, though, things tend to shift and you may find yourselves catching each other doing things wrong and accentuating the negative. Don’t forget that you need to stay positive and continue to praise each other’s progress—it’s a moving target!

Whether you’re newlyweds, a long-married couple, or in any other kind of loving relationship, it’s important to keep things moving in a positive direction. Remember our HELP tips: keep your sense of Humor, get your Ego out of the way, always Listen to each other, and don’t forget the power of Praising. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be like us and make it past the 57-year mark—and we’re still going strong!

3 Simple Ways to Master Learning and Make Things Happen

Years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me what my biggest disappointment was with my career. That thoughtful question motivated some real self-reflection. I realized that what bothered me most was that my work was not having lasting impact. While my books were widely read, many people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work. Most managers seemed content to merely talk about leadership practices, rather than to actually implement them.

My friend said, “You’re trying to change people’s behavior only from the outside. Lasting change starts on the inside and moves out.”

I knew immediately he was right, because all I had been focusing on were leadership methods and behavior. I hadn’t focused much on what was inside people’s heads or hearts.

Armed with this new insight, I teamed up with Paul J. Meyer and Dick Ruhe to write Know Can Do, a book about how to close the learning-doing gap. Together we developed three simple ways to help people make the leap from knowing to doing.

#1 – Learn Less More (and Not More Less)

While it’s fine to spend energy learning new skills and knowledge, you also need strategies to retain and apply all the helpful information you take in. For example, perhaps you love reading books and attending seminars. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you do those things so often that you don’t pause to integrate your new know-how and put it into action.

The fact is, we retain only a small fraction of what we read and hear only once. Instead of gobbling up new information, focus on a few key concepts and study them deeply. Then repeat what you’ve learned over time, which is called spaced repetition. This way, the new knowledge becomes firmly fixed in your mind and you become a master in those areas.

#2 – Listen with a Positive Mindset

There’s nothing wrong with thinking critically; in fact, it’s essential for survival. However, many if not most of us did not receive unconditional love and support when we were young. This gives us a tendency to doubt ourselves and others. Self-doubt causes us to filter all information—whether in book, audio, video, seminar, or conversation format—through our indecisive, closed-minded, judgmental, fear-ridden mindset, which leads to negative thinking.

Negative thinking causes us to learn and use only a fraction of what we see and hear. As a result, we achieve only a small percentage of what we could achieve. We accept too little too soon.

A positive, open mind ignites creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Instead of trying to find what’s wrong with new information, be a green light thinker who actively seeks out what’s right. Practice saying to yourself, “I know there is something of value in what I’m reading or hearing; what is it?”

#3 – Use a Follow-Up Plan

Doing what you’ve learned cannot be left to chance. To keep and apply the knowledge you’ve gained, you need a follow-up plan that provides structure, support, and accountability.

For example, suppose you’ve been out of shape most of your life, but thanks to your newfound positive thinking, you just finished a session with a personal trainer at the gym. You’re feeling proud of yourself—but you don’t have a follow-up plan. What do you think is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Chances are good to great that you’ll revert to your old ways.

Follow-up plans can take many forms, but the best ones include someone who can tell you, show you, observe you, and praise your progress or redirect you as you practice the new skill. Don’t let your teacher skip the praise part of that sequence, because accentuating the positive motivates learners. Soon you’ll be able to praise and redirect yourself. Over time, you’ll become a master in that skill.

And what’s the best way to maintain that mastery? By teaching what you’ve learned.

So, put the knowledge you’ve just gained into action by reviewing this blog with a positive mindset, practicing these steps, and sharing them with others!

3 Mindsets to Brighten Your Day

I’ve talked a number of times about Norman Vincent Peale and the positive impact he had on my life. I love this quote from him that I often read for inspiration as I enter my day:

“We are here to be excited from youth to old age—to have an insatiable curiosity about the world. Aldous Huxley once said that to carry the spirit of a child into old age is the secret of genius. And I buy that. We are also here to genuinely, humbly, and sincerely help others by practicing a friendly attitude. Every person is born for a purpose. Everyone has a God-given potential, in essence, built into them. And if we are to live life to its fullest, we must realize that potential.”

I like this quote for several reasons that all have to do with having a positive daily mindset.

  • First of all, I love the idea of carrying a childlike spirit into our old age. I feel sorry for adults who mope around and act like they have tight underwear. I love being silly and curious—it makes things more fun for me and, I hope, for the people around me. I’ve always said we should take what we do seriously but ourselves lightly. Norman had a twinkle in his eye and a childlike smile all the way until his “graduation” at age 95.

 

  • I am also a firm believer in practicing  a friendly attitude. That was core to the philosophy behind Norman’s perennial bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking. Whenever I would call him, he would respond in that wonderful singsong voice of his: “I was just telling Ruth the other day, the only thing wrong with our life is that we don’t see Ken and Margie Blanchard enough.”

 

  • Finally, I think it’s important for every person to realize their life purpose. Why are we here? How can we live life to the fullest and be more helpful to our families, friends, and colleagues, our companies and communities, and other good causes and people? Serving and helping others makes life more positive and meaningful.

So as you go out into the world each day, bring three positive daily mindsets along with you: a childlike spirit, a friendly attitude, and a purpose that includes service to others. Your day and the days of everyone you meet will be all the brighter for it!