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!

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Call an Audible

If there’s one thing leaders can count on, it’s that you can’t count on things to stay the same.  You get a game plan and then all of a sudden, circumstances change—your plan will no longer work. That’s when you’ve got to do what my friend, retired Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, refers to as “calling an audible”—doing something different to succeed.

One of my favorite stories about calling audibles comes from a seeing eye dog training program in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Two kinds of dogs would get kicked out of this program. One was the completely disobedient dog—the one that would do nothing the master wanted. Surprisingly, the other kind was the completely obedient dog—the one that did whatever the master asked it to.

The program only kept dogs that did whatever the master wanted unless it didn’t make sense. The trainers actually taught these dogs to think—to use judgment! So, if a dog is on a street corner and the master says, “Forward”—but the dog looks and sees a car coming at 60 miles an hour—the dog doesn’t blindly think, “This is a real bummer” as he leads his master right out in front of the car. Ha!

Sometimes leaders need to be like the seeing eye dog staring at the car heading their way at 60 miles per hour. Just because the business plan says to follow Plan A, it might be time to adopt Plan B.

Netflix provides a great example. In 1998—back when Blockbuster was the big name in movie rentals—Netflix started renting out DVDs by mail. But by 2007 the DVD rental model was losing profitability. That’s when Netflix called an audible—they took advantage of new technology and began offering a subscription streaming service.

Netflix is now the global leader in on-demand entertainment. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Blockbuster either didn’t see the car coming at 60 miles an hour, or they blindly followed a bad plan.

Organizations thrive when decision makers at every level learn to be audible ready. For example, a family with young kids was having dinner at a fine gourmet hotel restaurant in New York City. The kids ordered macaroni and cheese from the children’s menu. When dinner came, the kids played with the macaroni but didn’t each much. The grown-ups tried some and thought it was the greatest gourmet mac-and-cheese they’d ever tasted. When the waiter asked the kids if there was something wrong with their meal, they said, “It’s yucky! It’s not Kraft!”

The next evening when the family appeared at the restaurant, the waiter from the previous night spotted them and came right over to the kids. “I was hoping you would come back. I got Kraft for you.” With that, he went to the kitchen and returned with a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

With an audible-ready waiter like that, is it any wonder the restaurant was flourishing?

Many organizations today have an organizational chart with everyone in a comfortable box. It might look nice on the wall, but it locks everyone into a fixed game plan and often, fixed rules. Don’t let this happen to you. Plans and procedures are important, so have them in place. But be ready to call an audible when you see that 60-mile-an-hour car heading your way!

 

Memorial Day Remembrances

This past Monday was Memorial Day—a federal holiday in the United States designed for remembering and honoring those who have died in the service of our country.

Memorial Day weekend was always an important time of remembrance for my father, who served in the U.S. Navy. During World War II he led a group of twelve Landing Craft Infantry ships (LCI) in an assault on the Marshall Islands. The LCI’s job was to protect the Marines and the Frogmen (now Seals) during major battles. Tragically, 70 percent of my father’s men were killed or wounded during the assault.

My father retired as a Navy Admiral. He and my mother are buried side by side in Washington, D.C. at Arlington Cemetery—a beautiful place of rest that honors our heroes and their families.

Last year my wife, Margie, and I went on a three-day tour of Normandy, France, with the folks from The National World War II Museum. Normandy is the site of a battle that was the turning point in Europe during World War II. What an emotional experience it was to visit the American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 10,000 U.S. servicemen who perished in the battle are buried or memorialized. I wish every American could visit Normandy to witness the truth of the phrase “Freedom is not free.”

I hope you can schedule some quiet time this week to reflect on those who gave everything for our freedom. Teach your children and grandchildren the meaning of Memorial Day—and move forward with kindness as you interact with others.

God bless America!

Ken