Happy Families are No Accident

Years ago, Peter Drucker said “Nothing good happens by accident—put some structure around it!” So if you want something good to happen, put some structure around it. This doesn’t just apply to business; it’s also for family life. I can name several traditions that are perfect examples of Drucker’s line of thinking.

 

Like many families, we like to get together on every family member’s birthday. As part of the celebration we all sit at the dinner table and, one by one, tell the birthday person what we like about them. Our kids Scott and Debbie used to protest this tradition, but today they encourage their kids to take part in it, too. It’s an easy thing to do and a great way to make someone feel extra special on their special day.

 

Here’s another Blanchard tradition: every Christmas Day, between dinner and dessert, all our family and friends who are gathered share something special with everyone. They can sing a song, recite a poem, or tell us something important in their lives. This not only delights all those who are gathered, it makes the day more memorable and meaningful.

 

We know several couples who plan a date night at least once every two weeks. They make a rule that they can’t talk about work or the kids—only about their relationship. “How are we doing with each other?” If every couple did that 26 times a year, I guarantee there would be a lot fewer divorces.

 

Structure also helps our family business. You may or may not know this, but The Ken Blanchard Companies is family owned. Margie and I cofounded the company almost forty years ago—and Scott, Debbie, and Margie’s younger brother, Tom, joined the company around twenty years later. Sometimes family businesses work well and sometimes they don’t. We didn’t want to run the risk that our family business would mess up our family, so Scott had the idea that the five of us should meet one day every quarter with an outside consultant/facilitator. And what a great idea it was! We’ve been holding our “Family Council” meetings for a number of years now. More recently, Tom’s wife, Jill, and Scott’s wife, Madeleine, have joined us. We all know it’s due in no small part to these meetings that we still love each other and often vacation together, even though we work together almost every day.

 

So follow Drucker’s advice. If you want good things to happen, put some structure in place—it’s as easy as starting a few simple family traditions. When families find new ways to celebrate their positive relationships, life gets more enjoyable.

 

Gratitude: A Great Stress Buster

Having just experienced a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between thankfulness and stress. Recent research indicates that when you’re stressed out, if you stop and count your blessings and what you are thankful for, your stress will go away. Turns out that you can’t feel stress and be thankful at the same time. I love that!

Let’s keep this idea in mind as we head into the December holiday season. The minute you feel stressed out—shopping and thinking of all the other things you need to do in preparation for the holiday—take a deep breath and think of something you are grateful for.

This reminds me of the lyrics to a wonderful Bing Crosby song we used to sing when I was a kid:

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,

I count my blessings instead of sheep,

And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

Good on you all!

What Businesspeople Can Learn From the Back to School Mentality

Around this time of year, young people are experiencing the deep joy of a fresh start. It’s back to school season and possibility is everywhere! And I’ve got some good news: this sense of possibility isn’t just for students. Anyone can experience the benefits of a fresh start.

I once went on a cruise with a lot of older folks and noticed a big difference between those who saw opportunity everywhere and those who didn’t. The folks who saw opportunity in all the activities on the cruise expressed excitement about the future and were enjoying their lives more. Plus, they looked and acted 20 years younger than they were! The folks who didn’t take advantage of the ship’s activities were withdrawn and didn’t really come alive until mealtime.

The insights I gained on that cruise inspired my book Refire, Don’t Retire. One of the powerful ideas in this book is the Nothing Ordinary Rule, which challenges you to create new possibilities. For example, instead of ordering the same old thing at a restaurant, order a dish you’ve never tried. Go to an event you ordinarily wouldn’t go to. Listen to a new kind of music. Applying the Nothing Ordinary Rule increases your mental acuity and infuses your world with possibility. Pretty soon you’ll start to feel like an excited student all over again.

When you see opportunities all around you, you can’t help but generate good work. People often express astonishment that I’ve written more than 60 books. But I see each book as a new opportunity to learn about something new and share my excitement about that subject.

Aldous Huxley once said that the secret of genius is to carry the spirit of a child into old age. He was right! So take some inspiration from all the students going back to school this month—embrace the new opportunities around you.

If You Choose Your Attitude, You Get to Change Your Life for the Better

Does your busy schedule sometimes require you to do one thing when you’d really rather be doing something else, and it leaves you feeling a little grumpy? Once in a while when this happens to me, I think of a story I heard several years ago about the late, great opera singer Beverly Sills.

At a reception being held in her honor after a Saturday afternoon concert in San Francisco, the much loved Sills was approached by a reporter.

The reporter said, “I’ll bet you hate the fact that you have to give another concert tonight.”

“I don’t have to give another concert tonight,” said Sills.

“Yes you do,” the surprised reporter said as he held up a theater program. “It says so right on the front of this program.”

“You don’t understand,” said Sills. “I don’t have to give another concert—I get to give another concert. For much of my life I’ve said “I have to” do things. When I would say “I have to,” I could feel all the energy drain out of my body. Then one day I started thinking about how for each of my concerts, people were getting babysitters and dressing up and driving long distances just to see me sing. I realized how fortunate I was to be able to make a living doing something I loved to do. So the truth is, I get to give another concert tonight.”

Isn’t that great? So next time the thought runs through your head that you have to go to work, pick up the kids, do the shopping, or something else—substitute the phrase I get to. It’s a great mental shift toward a more positive attitude.

Another great attitude boost comes from Charles Swindoll. He is a famous pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher who wrote a wonderful essay about being in charge of your own attitude.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude in life. Attitude is more important than facts. It’s more important than your past; more important than your education or your financial situation; more important than your circumstances, your successes, or your failures; more important than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than your appearance, your giftedness, or your skills. It will make or break a company. It will cause a church to soar or sink. It will make the difference between a happy home and a miserable home. You have a choice each day regarding the attitude you will embrace.

Life is like a violin. You can focus on the broken strings that dangle, or you can play your life’s melody on the one that remains. You cannot change the years that have passed, nor can you change the daily tick of the clock. You cannot change the pace of your march toward your death. You cannot change the decisions or reactions of other people. And you certainly cannot change the inevitable. . . . What you can do is play on the one string that remains—your attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. The same is true for you.”

Life is a very special occasion when you have the right attitude. You are in charge—so I hope you choose to have a great attitude today. And remember: you don’t have to, you get to!

Enter Your Day Slowly to Lead a Balanced, Productive Life

Years ago I learned a very important lesson from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He explained to me that we all have two selves. One is an external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting jobs done, while the other is an internal, thoughtful, reflective self. If we let the task-oriented self rule our lives, we might accomplish many tasks—but we won’t be leading a balanced, values-based, fulfilling life. Making more time in your day for the thoughtful self will actually help you accomplish more while reducing stress.

Think about which self wakes up in the morning. Of course, our external task-oriented self wakes up first—usually to an alarm clock. Think of what an awful term that is—an ALARM clock! My friend pastor John Ortberg thinks we should call it the opportunity clock, or the it’s going to be a great day clock. Wouldn’t that give everyone a more positive perspective and outlook?

So the alarm goes off and you leap out of bed and you’re into your task-oriented self. You’re trying to eat while you’re washing, and you’re checking your email as you get dressed. Then you jump in the car and you’re on your speaker phone while you’re driving. Next, you’re going to this meeting and that meeting and running from here to there. Finally, you get home at eight or nine at night. You’re absolutely exhausted, so when you fall into bed you don’t even have energy to say goodnight to someone who might be lying next to you. And the next morning—bang!—the alarm goes off and you’re at it again. I call that leading a busy life, but not necessarily a balanced, peaceful, or thoughtful life.

There is a way to break this cycle. We all need to find a way to enter our day slowly so that we can awaken our reflective self first thing in the morning. The way for some people to do it will be exercise, and for others reading, meditating, or journaling. I put together a booklet of favorite inspirational quotes that I read in the morning. It only takes a few minutes to read and it helps me begin my day with a positive and happy perspective. Instead of immediately doing activities I can check off a task list, I’m able to be thoughtful about how I approach each task. I can prioritize easier, be more creative, and eliminate a lot of stress this way. I even have more time for the most important activity of all—spending time with loved ones. And what’s better than that?

By entering my day slowly, I find it easier to focus on the important things and have more energy to face challenges. It has worked for me, my family, and friends—I urge you to give it a try.