All Posts by Stephen Guise

Tough Decisions, Big Risks

I have just made a tough decision – the toughest of my life.

In July 2010, I graduated with a B.S.B.A. in Finance.  November 2010, I decided to move to Virginia without a job, at first living with friends and family and finally moving into an apartment with a friend on a 5 month sublease.  Still, no job.  My friend got two jobs so I went ahead and moved in with plans to get one of my own.

Amazingly, passage of time makes it more difficult to pay rent without income. [Continue Reading…]

Beware Self-Absorption: Why You MUST Like Yourself

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” ~Maya Angelou

Note: Even if you do like yourself (that’s great!), this can serve as a valuable reinforcing tool or educational piece.

An interesting pseudo-paradox occurs when you don’t like yourself – you become completely obsessed with yourself.  Seems rather backwards, doesn’t it?  I don’t like myself, so therefore I’m going to focus on myself?  It’s true.  You might think it more sensible to focus on something else that you value more…and this happens too, at the same time.

I’m sorry if this has the sour taste of contradiction – that a self-loathing person could become self-absorbed and others-focused at the same time.  It will make more sense later.  The point right now is that not liking yourself has some pretty nasty consequences.

If You Do Not Like Yourself…

1. You Will Not Invest In Yourself

Investing is more than just a financial term – it applies to all of life.  Here are a handful of examples of investing in yourself:

  • Investing in others
  • Actively pursuing your dreams and personal growth
  • Thinking about your life critically
  • Productively spending your time
  • Reading valuable books
  • Exercising and eating well
  • Managing your finances
  • Setting goals

Examples of not investing in yourself – abusing drugs/alcohol, entertaining yourself all day (TV, Video games, etc.), carelessness with your health, wasting time habitually, using others,  accepting the life you’re given as is, and being passive overall.

2. You Perceive Yourself As Inferior

If you don’t like yourself, it is because you believe other people are better in some way.  There can be many reasons for this way of thinking – physical appearance, performance in school/other, a big mistake, a bad environment growing up, half-hearted living that leads to repeated failure, or any specific quality that you choose to focus on.

3. You Can Only Hope To Have Hope Someday

There is no hope in the mind of those who dislike themselves.  Hope is squashed under the heavy weight of pessimism and doubt of ever becoming a person of value.  Life has no flavor if you don’t like the character you’re playing as.

4. You Passively Define Your Value As A Person

Those who like themselves know they have value as a human being on a basic level, and more value based on their unique qualities.  If you don’t like yourself, your only idea of self-worth is what the world tells you.  Problem is, the world usually doesn’t always argue with you if you send the message that you’re worthless.  🙁

Self-absorbed – “Excessively self-involved”  (thefreedictionary.com)

Self-absorption comes in with that last point.  In the beginning I mentioned that self-loathing people focus on something else they value more than themselves – that something is others’ opinion of them.  They will look to others to provide them with the vital sense of self-worth.  Self-worth compels us to invest in ourselves; we need to know that we’re worth investing in.  You wouldn’t invest $5,000 in a pile of garbage, would you?

If you don’t believe you have value, you’ll seek to get validation somewhere else, and that is where your focus will be.  This leads you to focus on what everyone else thinks of you as it is your only source of critical self-worth.  As such, you’ll be so desperately self-absorbed in your self-worth crisis that you will instinctively try to manipulate people into giving you validation as a means of self-preservation (fishing for compliments, boasting excessively, etc.). People do not like being manipulated and used, even if you think your sense of self-worth is on the line.  This is how you end up focusing on yourself through others.  Pseudo-paradox explained.

The “Validate Me” Mindset

The problem with letting others define your value is this – if Jim tells you that you’re ugly, and you don’t like yourself to begin with, Jim has just dealt you a devastating blow.  You’ll not only believe Jim, but you’ll take it a step further by attaching your value to your physical appearance.  This is because you’re looking for something – anything and anyone – that can tell you how valuable or not you are.

This is flawed thinking.

You become self-absorbed when you’re focused on something (your value in this case) directly and only related to yourself.  You look to others to provide this information to you, hoping that it is positive.  But even when it is positive, you’re not convinced.  You look for more confirmation – as an addict looks for cocaine – fishing for compliments and recognition to keep you afloat.  The negative feedback you receive carries a lot more weight than the positive – because you’d already like yourself if you believed the positive feedback.  One negative remark overpowers a thousand compliments.

Breaking Free

The first step in getting out of a bad situation is understanding it.  If you read this and relate to it, then a change would do you a lot of good.  If you don’t like yourself, words may not be enough to change you.  Understanding that your value is not defined by any one quality or by others is enough to set you free.  However, you have to “get it” and believe it.  If you can’t, I’d recommend trying to change your mindset by leading with action.

Force yourself to invest in yourself.  Make yourself try new things, develop various skills, and meet new people.  Find out what it is about other people that you find valuable and then come up with a plan to BE that.  Don’t over think it, just go out there and do it.  When your confidence begins to build as you get closer to respecting yourself, it will snowball positively.

Taking action first is one of two ways that people can change – it causes a change in perception through experience.  The other way is a paradigm shift in one’s perception of reality by enhanced understanding (such as change from reading this post or a good book).

The worst thing you can do is hide behind something – an image, a tough persona, an addiction that helps you forget.   Address your problem head on, willing to fail.  Talk to friends/family/church about it.  Quality people love to help others.  Seeking professional help is a great idea – they’ve dealt with this issue before.

When You Like Yourself…

Life is exciting.  You have struggles and problems, but you believe you can overcome them instead of accepting them as permanent life roadblocks.  You focus on the merits and qualities of others because you already know you (and everyone else in the world) have value.  Instead of looking for validation, you’ll look to make a positive difference in others’ lives, and it is satisfying when you do.

The glass is half full, tomorrow is a chance to learn or try something new, and the world is one big open planet with no restrictions.  With the internet, all information is available at your fingertips and excuses are no longer valid.  Once you find out that your mindset is your biggest obstacle in life, things get very exciting very fast.  If you believe that you’re worthless, you will become worthless and the cycle begins.

On the other hand, if you believe you’re capable of climbing Mount Everest despite being blind, then you’ll probably do it.

I find depth extremely valuable, and I’m trying to live in congruence with that with this website.  Unsurprisingly, I have liked myself and invested in myself much more since starting it!  By doing this, I’m also pursuing my dreams.  No matter how much you like yourself now, find out what it is that holds great value in your mind and strive to live up to that; succeed and you will naturally like and invest in yourself and others more.  It may take some soul searching to find it, but when you do…it is AWESOME!

Positive Life Change Is Possible

Positive life change is appealing.

For all the theories out there about how to change your life, experience is perhaps the best metric to gauge how valuable they really are.  Experience is proven.  The downside of course – experiences are not universal.  What works for you might not work for me and vice versa.

Genetics and environment are two variables that do determine a whole lot about who we are.  Some might even say that a person with a capacity to change for the better and “carve their own path” is genetically and environmentally predisposed to that way of thinking, that potential.  I am in no position to refute that.  Be that as it may, just because someone has the environmental and genetic potential for positive life change, (sadly) does not mean the potential will be realized. For those who have that potential (I believe most people do), I will reflect on what has worked for me in regards to positive life change.

It is true – Genetics and environment have a great effect on us – but it is still possible to break through those molds.  I think of people like Stevie Wonder (Superstition is just plain good).  But before you assume where I’m headed, I’ll pose the question – did he rise to musical legend status because he is blind? It is well known that the other senses are commonly heightened after the loss of one.  Many would point out the wonder of a blind person rising to such success and ability despite their inability to see.  Right now, I look at it from the other point of view – many people are motivated by their disadvantages, disabilities, failures, etc.  Those who have average, normal lives will often be complacent.  Real struggles and challenges can drive people to huge success.

If I find huge success one day, pencil me in as one of those people.

Things That Have Changed My Life (Positively)

Listing all of the things that have contributed towards my positive life change would take all day, so I’m going to cover the main ones that have produced the strongest positive life change.

Failure

It is funny to me how learning often entails seeing how everything is the opposite of what you once thought it was.  I’m beginning to really appreciate failure.   This blog would not exist if I hadn’t been unemployed since I graduated in July 2010 with a B.S.B.A. in Finance.  It was my plan to get a degree so that I could get a good job.  The degree and my “obvious skills” were my automatic get-a-job ticket.  Oops.  Hey there reality, I can’t pay rent this month (I will soon because I just got a job).

It is hard for me to look at this as pure failure, as I never was given a chance to fail.  But I certainly felt like a failure.  I’ll say it right now, job hunting is the most demoralizing and inspiring thing I’ve ever done. You can’t help but feel worthless as company after company notifies you that they are “pursuing other applicants.”   More commonly, they’d ignore you altogether as you continue to beg for work. This experience has forced my hand and I am a different person now.  I decided one month ago that I was sick of other people deciding what I was worth.

Since then, I’ve launched this blog and I’m working on another website with a couple of friends that has a lot of potential for success.    Nine months ago, I was ready to get a regular job and just make money.  Now I’m ready to pursue my dreams.  I need this job short term, but I’m living my dream on the side (and I plan on living it full-time eventually).  I can’t thank those companies enough.

The Hot Seat

Hot Seat

Have a seat. I warmed it up for you.

The title of this one has you intrigued, doesn’t it?  Don’t run off and sit on hot coals quite yet.  The hot seat is a metaphor and you’ll soon understand why it is called that.  A wise friend of mine (PsyD, married, 3 kids) told me about the hot seat.

Here it is – one person sits on a chair in the middle of a group of people (or in front of a semi-circle of people).  While seated, the people surrounding this person will begin to be very honest with him/her. Major and minor flaws are exposed, and it is not comfortable, but I love it.

A couple years ago, I eagerly entered the hot seat because I knew it was a growth opportunity.  At the time I was spouting the merits of brutal honesty, so here was my chance to not be a hypocrite.  It was tough and I think there were 6-7 people in the semi-circle.  After sweating it out, I learned a few very interesting things about myself.

  1. I added qualifiers to everything (a non-committal technique) –  “I think I feel nervous right now.”  “Yeah, I probably do that sometimes.” This showed a lack of confidence or a fear of offending people with opposing viewpoints.
  2. I internally screened everything I said (too much) and when it came out of my mouth, it was monotone.  My goal up until that point was to control how people interpreted my communication to ensure accuracy.  We discovered that I spoke in monotone so that people would only be able to listen to the words I was saying and not “read my emotions/tone.”  The issue with this, as you may have guessed, is that a dull monotone voice does send a message and it was not the one I wanted to be sending.
  3. To go with # 2, I absolutely over-analyzed social situations. I felt I had to account for every person in the room.  I would attempt to analyze how everything I said and did would affect each person in the room.  Crippling.

Since the hot seat, I’m much more social (and laid back), confident, and I speak in a larger variety of tones!  I may have never found these things out on my own.  The hot seat is awesome.

There Are Others…

But I want to wrap this up because I’m tired (+ 3 honesty bonus).  The different ways I’ve changed my life actually have two common factors – deep thinking and a change of perspective. That’s the theme of my blog and there is a reason for it.  Below is the description for this website, the one that people will see when it ranks in Google for keywords.

“Humans change when they experience a paradigm shift in their belief and understanding of reality. Deep, critical thinking equips the mind for positive life change using this concept.”

The reason we change when our perspective changes is because we then see the world in a different way and respond naturally to that.  If you’re trying to force yourself to change and you still see the world in the same way, you’re fighting a losing battle.

Example:  I used to have to come up with motivational techniques and programs for working out.  One I created was a complex point system where I could earn points and buy things (like ice cream) with them.  The motivation would fade and I’d start over.  However, my perspective of working out began to change as I noticed the positive effect it was having on my health, body, and life.  Exercise soon became essential in my mind like brushing my teeth or eating are.  You know the feeling when you forget to brush your teeth or it has been too long?  I get that feeling if I haven’t exercised in a while.  I wasn’t able to get consistent until my perception of exercise changed from something nice to something necessary.

Deep, critical thinking create opportunities to shift our perspective to one that aligns better with the reality of the world and the reality of how our current selves match up to our ideal selves.  As you can see from the hot seat example, other people are invaluable when it comes to perceiving things you cannot yet see.

Find other people who are interested in living better by means of thinking about life, and spend time with them.  These are the people you want to be around, because their thoughts and ideas might  inspire you or provide the spark you need to start a wildfire of positive life change.  The hot seat may have been that initial spark for me.

How To Use Your Dreams To Achieve Your Dreams

Your alarm clock goes off. A slight moan is heard, sounding your disapproval of the familiar interruption as you hit the snooze once more. You don’t want to go into work today. You don’t want to call that company and wrestle with them on the phone for 2 hours. You don’t even want to do your laundry. You’re not motivated and life feels stale.  Every day is the same old mediocre existence.

As you lay your head down to rest, you can’t sleep because you’re just too stressed out. Sound like you? How did you get here? Where did you go wrong? I’d like to propose something that will prevent this mindset from taking over your life. It isn’t gimmicky snake oil. It is logical. It is simple. It should work. I’m reading a book called Thinkertoys, and the author talks about how it is impossible to be creative with a negative mindset.

When I read this, a series of lights lit up in my brain that spelled TRUE. Negative thought cripples people. Negative mindsets cause “I can’t because” thoughts instead of “I can because” thoughts.  The “I can because” thoughts are the ones that find creative ways to overcome the obstacles that seem so daunting.  How do you get from negative to positive? Try this.

It may be helpful for you to close your eyes (for concentration), but don’t close them yet, because if you just closed them you aren’t reading this right now.  Why are you sleeping?  Hey!  Ok, now that you’re awake, read the next paragraph and close your eyes if you wish.

Relax…

Ok, think about your perfect life, where you are completely content, brimming with positivity and hope, and completely at peace. Think about it just for a few seconds and see what comes to mind. When the first image or thought pops into your head, grab onto it like a 100 dollar bill floating away. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? What mindset do you have and how do you feel?  Soak your mind in this scene until it is so saturated that you can actually feel what this setting is like and what it means to you.

You should be feeling pretty awesome because you’ve just tasted your dreams! You should also feel at peace right now if you really let your mind wander deeply into the recesses of your dreams. An even better way of doing this is if your dreams have powerful symbols or specific images associated with them – you can focus on that symbol or image (the inspiration for this writing).

Since examples are useful, I’ll go through one of my dream images that is the wallpaper on my laptop. When I think about my perfect life, I imagine a beautiful beach with calm waters and a gorgeous sunset. In this image I am sitting next to my wife, completely relaxed and content, and with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that I have “made it.” My dream image encompasses some of my deepest desires – companionship, peace, health, contentment, freedom from unnecessary stress, connecting with God through the unparalleled beauty of His creation, and a sense of success by overcoming significant obstacles in life. These things are everything I hope and strive for.

Reflecting on what you truly desire has (at least) two positive effects – it is satisfying and it causes you to focus more on those desires. Knowing what you want and what you’re going for in life is absolutely critical to actually getting it. Your dreams won’t happen accidentally. On to the main point – doing this reminds us what the difficult times in life are for. When you have a plan for reaching your dreams, you can work hard, happily and energetically, knowing that you’re doing your best to reach your goal. What if you fall short? You may indeed fall short of some dreams. That is life.

However, if you have a clear end goal and a plan to get there, you have a great chance of success by failing and adjusting your approach until you succeed. A fear of failure is the most common cause of the most serious failure – life failure.

Sunset Beach

Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Dreams…

These words come from a man who is setting his sights on reaching that beach.  I’ve done it before with other dreams.  The scene involves more than standing on the beach – it involves my financial situation, my mindset, my relationships, and more.  The picture merely serves as a container for the idea, and when I look at it, I can picture myself in that wonderful situation. It took me a while to see the light, but I’m no longer passive about my life. I’m taking concrete steps to reach that dream scenario. When I find myself on the beach with my wife, lounging as we look at the sunset, I’ll be a very happy man who will remember this post. I may not live on the beach and my dreams may change, but right now that is the moment that excites and motivates me to keep at it. It is an indicator in my mind so that when I reach that point, I’ll know I have done more than a few things right. Satisfying.

Make The Change

If you find yourself bogged down by the daily grind, reflect on why you’re in the daily grind in the first place. If you can’t see your current path leading you to your dreams and desires – change course. If you wanted to sail to Honolulu, would you let the tides and winds take you to Sri Lanka? In the same way, “don’t let your dreams be dreams” – intentionally go for them! (Quote from Jack Johnson – dreams be dreams).

Your alarm goes off, and you walk into your room to turn it off. You woke up earlier because you were so excited to start your day that you felt a burst of energy. You laugh as you realize that you could have been sleeping. While you’d rather have a better job, you’re thankful to have some income and are looking for other jobs.  You quickly take care of routine tasks while you brainstorm ideas for your big trip.  Before heading into work, you fill in the final details of the 2 year mission you have to save up money to go to Fiji for a month with your spouse – something you both have always wanted to do. Tomorrow, you’ll both start selling some unneeded clutter on ebay to clean the house and make extra money for the trip. As you lay your head down to rest, you can’t sleep because you’re so excited about life.

Are You Willing To Fail? It Is The Key To Success

Obvious to some and seemingly contradictory to others, success is found by those who are willing to fail.    Even as history has seen countless examples of failure being a common prelude to success, it is often overlooked as people scramble for the perfect success formula.  Unsurprising, as failure is not glorious like a perfectly executed and foolproof plan.  When you actually fail at something, it isn’t fun.

This isn’t as much inspiring as it is statistical – the more times you try, the more you will fail and succeed. To avoid failure is to avoid success.

As I told my good friend last night, “for the first time, I feel like I’m living my dreams.”  I’ve made 39 cents from adsense and I feel like I’m living my dreams?  That either makes me crazy or enlightened. Since I have started this website, I have begun to come up with ideas for others.  If I find the time to start them, I will be spreading out my risk of failure by having more than one chance of success.

The difference between being willing to fail and unwilling to fail is taking risks.

If you are one who is not willing to fail in a particular area of life, you will make sure that you have no opportunities to fail.  The key words in there being “no opportunities.”  Security will always have the drawback of closing doors.  Let’s see what avoiding failure looks like in three universally important areas.

Avoiding Failure

  • Relationships – Simple.  Don’t start any.
  • Career – Follow well-established, proven paths.  It may not be your first choice, but hey…it will pay the bills.
  • Dreams – You won’t try, because a realization that you have failed to accomplish your dreams is terrifying (it is to me).  It’s as if you’re finding out you’re not good enough and are doomed to live in mediocrity.  You’d rather just leave this one untouched for now, and tackle it someday when you’re sure you can succeed.

Notice a theme?  Inaction.  That doesn’t sound too good to me.  I suspect that you and I want something more out of life.  We would love to reach our dreams, as they are the strongest desires we have – in theory.  In reality, the desires for comfort and security can spoil our dreams without us knowing.

Success Could Be One Fail Away

When brainstorming of people to mention that failed before they rose to fame and fortune, I had a difficult time thinking of anyone who did not meet that criteria. Success without failure is rare.

Henry Ford’s first car company failed, Bill Gates’ first company fizzled out, Michael Jordan did not make his High School Basketball team, and Ben Franklin was completely broke before he rose to fame and fortune.

By the way, Ben Franklin’s auto-biography is fascinating – I think he is one of the most amazing men in history; it is FREE on Kindle platforms – PCs, smartphones, or the Kindle reader.

These men did not plan to fail, they strove to succeed.  Do not focus on whether to avoid failure or not.  Rather, focus on accepting failure as a part of trying.  If you have this mindset and can handle failure when it comes, the world is wide open to you and you can pursue your dreams.

You may try and fail 1,000 times, but when that light bulb finally comes on, there isn’t a greater feeling in the world (Right Mr. Edison?). This is why we try…and fail…and succeed.