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6 Easy Ways to Become More Optimistic

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
                                                       –– Winston Churchill


We all know people who remain upbeat and positive about the future, even in the midst of hardships or tragedies.
 
And all of us are familiar with the opposite: people who seem to have every advantage in life, yet take the negative view of every situation.
 
Research has shown that both of these approaches – positivity and negativity - have the potential of going viral by infecting the larger team and organizational cultures with positivity or negativity. With either emotion, we can spiral – downward or upward. It's a choice.
 
Pessimism is easy
Let’s face it. We live in a world filled with negativity. Pessimism is easy. Optimism is hard – it takes work, and we have to regulate our emotions.
 
None of us have a choice of what events we encounter, but we all have a choice about how we respond. And we are not only choosing for ourselves; our decisions affect our teams, families, friends and others.
 
There are good, practical reasons to maintain an optimistic view, including the simple notion that optimism can fuel us with the energy to pursue positive outcomes, despite the odds in sales, in business, in relationships, and in life.
 
Optimism may also help in the reduction of stress and its negative effects on the body caused by the release of cortisol and other hormones from the fight-or-flight response.
 
Optimism predicts resiliency
Research shows that optimism can also be a powerful force in our mental resiliency. Dr. Dennis Charney, the dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, studied some 750 Vietnam veterans who had been held as prisoners of war for six to eight years. Even though they suffered torture and were isolated in solitary confinement, they remained resilient.
 
Despite enduring inhumane stress, the research found that these POWs did not develop post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, as others had. Their secret? Charney identified 10 traits that set them apart from others, including having meaning in life – something to live for – and a sense of humor. But the number one trait was optimism.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl shared similar findings from his experiences in Nazi death camps, documented in his profound book, Man's Search for Meaning
 
Here are some tips to help you build and maintain optimism in your life and your work:
 
1. Practice gratitude. It's impossible to express gratitude and pessimism at the same time. At the end of my phone voicemail, I ask callers to tell me something they are grateful for. When I listen to their messages, sometimes there's a pause, with a flustered reply, such as "my family," and other times people give heartfelt, profound answers.
 
They might tell me about loved ones with a serious illness or a recent death in the family. The people who respond with these dramatic answers often have the greatest sense of optimism in their voices saying, “I know we will get through this” and “God is great.”
 
My practice upon waking is to immediately think of three things I’m grateful for in life, and why. For me, these can range from the critical: my family, friends, and health; the blessings of freedom in life and business; the opportunity to change people’s lives; to the mundane: a favorite meal, workout or coffee. These thoughts often end up making me smile; a great way to start the day.

2. Develop awareness. The first step is awareness. Every day, we and others create environments and situations filled with negativity and cynicism. We make pessimistic judgments and tell ourselves negative stories. It’s hard to know we’re wearing dark glasses until we take them off.
 
3. Assume the best. I have a CEO client who likes to say that “when we look into a dark room, we never assume it’s filled with angels.” It’s true. Research finds that we have a bias toward negative information (just turn on the TV news to confirm this) and we make negative assumptions. This might be protective wiring in our DNA, but it can impede our success.
 
Try assuming the best intentions of people and situations for a week and see if it changes your point of view. 

4. Keep your head up. Both literally and figuratively. You’ve heard the phrase "keep your chin up,” which means you should remain optimistic. As I’ve written about body language, how you position yourself can greatly influence your confidence and people’s confidence in you. Keep your head up and your eyes on the prize.
 
5. Try a negativity fast. Once we become aware of the high level of negativity in our lives, we have the opportunity to control the flow. Try going on a diet that limits your exposure to negative people, environments, and media.
 
6. Rewrite your story. Throughout the day we tell stories about our lives and businesses and about who we are. The person we tell stories to the most is ourselves and, particularly among high achievers, we will tell negative stories in comparison to others: “I’m not achieving enough; she is more accomplished; he has a better life.”
 
It’s funny because we’ll apply the negativity to ourselves, but we seem to always apply the positive filter when comparing ourselves to others: The rich and famous have those perfect lives; all of our friends on Facebook are living it up, and here we are caught up in the same old grind.
 
Rewriting the stories we tell ourselves – with a good measure of gratitude – will give us the lift we need for a greater sense of optimism.
 
None of this is easy. In a world of 24/7 social media and negative news, optimism can be a full-time job. But it is a task worth the effort, with remarkable benefits for us and those around us.
 
Develop your awareness and choose optimism.

How to Build Your Story Bank

A couple weeks ago, speaking at a convention in Las Vegas, I was asked a question about how to find your purpose.

As I began answering the question, I spontaneously told a story about a personal struggle I had earlier in my career that helped me find my purpose. It’s an emotional story, with a happy ending.
 
My 'Story Bank' 
The reason I was able to “spontaneously” tell this story is because it’s in my Story Bank. Over the years, I’ve collected my own personal and business stories to use in presentations and personal conversations.
 
If someone asked me under pressure to tell them my favorite story, my encounter with Oprah during a half-marathon might appear, or I might tell them about having a week off before I started a new job in Los Angeles and how I auditioned for seven game shows in three days. But we’ll leave that for another day.

Your favorite story
Let’s talk about you. If someone were to ask you to tell your favorite story, what would you say?
 
Would you search your memory bank hoping to come up with a story that is worthy of being called your “favorite”?
 
Would you be flustered? Maybe tell the first story that comes to mind? Or would you give up searching and let this opportunity pass?
 
This exact scenario may not happen to you, but there are times that telling a story would be the perfect way to engage, inspire, or persuade someone important to you.
 
Stories can build understanding and connection in relationships – so they’re helpful in business and in life.
 
With this in mind, let me give you a few tips for collecting your own stories:
 
Create your Story Bank
You should consider developing a disciplined approach to finding and saving your best stories so that you have a collection ready to use. By sharing your stories you’re giving people insights into who you are and what you value.
 
You’ll find that your openness is rewarded with openness from others in return.

Develop a storyteller mindset
Once you decide to capture stories you’ll notice that stories are everywhere. That’s because we as human beings are hardwired for hearing and telling stories. We tell stories all the time, to others and to ourselves.
 
When you decide to collect your own stories, they’ll start popping up all the time -- when you’re in meetings, driving to work or just waking up.
 
Set a method for collecting your stories
When all of these stories start coming at you, it’s important to have a disciplined approach to capturing them. If you say, “I’ll write that down when I get to home” you’ll never remember that story.
 
I have a notebook I use to write my favorite inspirational quotes and my stories. I keep that notebook on my desk in the office. It’s a white Moleskine notebook with a black drawing of Batman on the cover. Don’t judge me.
 
To make sure I capture stories when I’m traveling or elsewhere, I have a notes file on my phone labeled “stories” and whenever I hear something that would make a good story (or a Sunday Coffee post ;-) I enter it on my phone. If I’m driving, I dictate a quick note.

Strategic approach
During my training sessions, I’m often privileged to hear amazing, and often intimate stories.  People will share tragedies and triumphs, contributing meaningful parts of their lives. 
 
When I ask whether they have shared these stories elsewhere, they often say no.  Sometimes people don’t remember to tell them or they didn’t think the stories were important.
 
This is why it’s vital to take a strategic approach to collecting stories.  Our stories need to be told, but we are the only ones who can tell them.  Take a few minutes to sit down and recall the stories from your life.

Ask for stories from others
If you’re a leader, or in sales, you should also be asking other people for stories. Collecting stories about your organization, successes and failures, helps to reinforce the culture you are seeking to strengthen. 
Rather than asking the old, “how’s business?” what if you asked someone to tell you the most interesting story they’ve heard in their business in the past year?
 
When you ask that question, rather than get the pat answer, “business is good” you’ll get a real insight into the person and the organization. That’s because to find a story, we have to search a different part of our brains, as it takes some effort and creativity. Watch a person’s face, especially their eyes, when they search for a story.
 
And when they share the story with you, the two of you are making the most real, intimate connection available to human beings. You’re sharing yourselves.
 
I call storytelling “the leader’s superpower” because telling a story is more engaging, inspiring and motivating than anything else you can say.
 
So keep your eyes open; stories are all around you. And search your life, for the moments you can share with others.
 
You’ll be on your way to telling the world your story.

Leadership Lessons from Southwest Airlines Flight 1380

As a leadership coach and speaker, I’m on the road virtually every week and, if I’m traveling in the U.S., I’ll likely be on Southwest Airlines. It’s been my go-to carrier since forming my consulting practice 14 years ago. 

That’s why I paid particular attention to a CBS morning interview, which I happened to catch live in an airport, with the whole crew of Southwest Flight 1380.

You might recall SWA #1380 was the plane that had an engine explosion that took the life of a passenger on April 17. My condolences to the family of that passenger, Jennifer Riodan, whose death was the first fatality on a U.S. airline since 2009. As the captain said in her interview, "The survival of 148 never eclipses the loss of one.”

Lessons in leadership
As I listened to the interview with the five crew members, I realized I was hearing powerful lessons of leadership, teamwork, and communication in the workplace. I re-watched the interview that night in my hotel room, taking careful notes, so that I could share them with you.

The flight had taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport. After reaching cruising altitude the left engine exploded, sending debris through a passenger window. This caused the plane to lose cabin pressure and oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.

Try to imagine how you might react in this terrifying situation as a pilot, a flight attendant, or a passenger. You hear a loud explosion, the plane banks steeply, your ears pop from sudden decompression, wind and debris are blowing through the cabin, and you are looking for some sense of reassurance that you will survive.

Many passengers began texting what they thought might have been their final messages to their loved ones.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I heard from the crew of Flight 1380:

Calm leadership in the cockpit
Though this crew had never worked together before, they reported a sense of calm and confidence throughout the flight, conveyed from the cockpit to the flight attendants to the passengers. 

The plane was piloted by Capt. Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor. Shults was one of the first women Navy fighter pilots, who flew F/A-18 Hornets and trained other military pilots. She said her military training kicked in immediately.

"I have been in cockpits where the dynamics of the flight are not normal and they also make it hard to even see or read the instrumentation. So that certainly helped to kind of keep my calm when this sudden explosion happened, and we are moving in a radical way and we're not in balanced flight," she said. 

Her first officer Ellisor was at the controls when the engine exploded. The plane, which was on auto-pilot, suddenly veered to the left, the wing banked 40 degrees, and the plane began to descend. Ellisor took manual control of the plane and he and Shults assessed the situation and began to work through their checklists. They determined Philadelphia was the best emergency landing spot and began their procedures.

"Initially our job is to get on oxygen to take care of ourselves first," Ellisor said, "communicate with ourselves, and once we take care of the plane and get the first initial checklist, then our job is to talk to the flight attendants and find out, okay, what's going on back there, how are you doing."

Communicate with the team
Shults said her first officer made sure the team was informed. "He made keeping in contact with the flight attendants his priority," Shults said.

"He took care of switches, checklists, but he was always available when they called so that he could answer their questions, he could give them information because it's so different when you're in the back and you don't see what's happening, you have no control of what's happening and you don't know what they're doing or thinking about, so he kept them calm," she said.

That communication gave the flight attendants the knowledge and assurance to help their passengers. “We had confidence we were all going to make it. We had faith and confidence in our pilots. We kept that confidence the whole way through and let them (the passengers) know,” said flight attendant Seanique Mallory.
 
Build trust before you need it
Captain Shults said the airline’s usual procedure is to have a “huddle” first thing in the morning to discuss the routes and the weather, which they did prior to their first morning trip from Nashville to La Guardia. 
 
But Shults thinks it’s important for leaders to get to know their team on another level. “The protocol at Southwest is to have a morning brief, but I tend to go deeper just because people are deeper than the weather. We spoke about things that were a little more interesting than just the weather. 
 
"In LaGuardia, when we had a little extra time, we were chatting, and Rachel had gotten a new Bible with room to journal on the side, and she and Seanique and then Kathryn was talking about she was in a study of Psalms, which is where I'm doing a study in Psalms and Proverbs," Shults said. 

Creating a bond of trust
"When you talk about things deeper than the weather, your family and faith, the things that matter to you, even if they're different, it tends to bring a bond."

The crew’s shared values had given them a bond and a deeper sense of confidence when tragedy struck.

"Well, it was the peace that God had given us all. It's a peace that surpasses all understanding. Like Tammie Jo said, we came together beforehand and we all talked about God, and not knowing what was going to happen minutes later, God had already prepared us without us even knowing," Mallory said.

Trust enables communication
"We didn't have to communicate verbally with each other because we just had trust and we were able to just do what we needed to do. But to communicate with our passengers we had to have a very loud, stern but caring voice," said flight attendant Rachel Fernheimer.

"I would just grab their hands even if I had to stretch over into a window seat and I would just look into some of their bloodshot eyes and say, 'Look at me. We're going to be okay. We're going to make it. We are going to Philadelphia and we are here together.' 

“And I think that was the most important thing was to just – even though our ears had popped from the rapid decompression and there was wind and debris all throughout the cabin, in the midst of chaos you have to just look at someone. And I think eye contact was the biggest communication during that," Fernheimer said.

“We had to take ourselves out of the equation and realize it wasn’t about us at that moment, it was all about our passengers.”
 
Flight attendant Kathryn Sandoval agreed, “The way we all remained calm, reflected on the passengers because they saw we were calm.”
 
As a leader or team member you’ll hopefully never face a crisis as terrifying as Flight #1380, but you can apply these important lessons in creating calm and confidence with your leadership, teamwork, and communication.

You can watch the interview here:
 Southwest Flight Crew on CBS TV interview
 

To share your thoughts with John or join John's exclusive weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee, use our Contact Form.

Should You Be a 'Giver' at Work?

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” 

 –– Samuel Johnson


You know that guy in your office who is all about himself?

He’s always kissing up to the bosses to get the best of everything; he’s always getting people to do him favors, but he never helps anyone else. He’s a jerk! 

Guys like him know that people who give to others are borne losers -- doormats who deserve to be walked on.

What do you think? Is he right? Or is he wrong?

I hate to tell you, but he’s right. But the good news is, he’s also wrong.

‘Give and Take’

Let me explain. Extensive research on this question finds that some people who care deeply about people and put others first can be left with little to show for it. They end up at the bottom.

However, the more important part of this research shows that some people who give to others are among the most successful.

This is the research of Adam Grant, professor at The Wharton School of Business, documented in his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. *

I was coaching senior leaders at a national convention a couple of years ago when I had the pleasure of meeting Grant, who was a featured speaker. After reading his book I was struck by the depth of his research, colorful stories and, most of all, the counter-intuitive nature of his conclusions.

Surprising key to success

Grant’s research examines “the surprising forces why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom.”

The professor notes that “in professional interactions, it turns out that most people operate as either takers, matchers or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.”

Grant writes that what your style is at work can have a huge impact on your success: “Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries.”

Here’s an overview of the styles:

Takers ultimately fail

Take a minute and think about this:

That guy in your office, the jerk you were thinking of when I mentioned him a minute ago, doesn’t everyone know that he’s out for himself?

The answer is “yes,” and Grant’s research shows that he won’t have long-term success because there is a long line of people (maybe including you) who are waiting to plunge knives in his back when the time is right. This makes sense since success is all about relationships.

Matchers give to get

Matchers are people who help others with the expectation of return favors. In that way, they can be perceived as only helping you to get something from you. Not a particularly favorable reputation.

Givers fail and win…big

Grant’s research finds the very interesting results of being a giver in the workplace: “Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder. Across occupations, if you examine the link between reciprocity styles and success, the givers are more likely to become champs -- not only chumps,” he writes.

The difference between winning and losing for givers is in approach, as Grant details in his book.

Grant indicates most of us develop a primary way of interacting with people at work, which determines whether we are successful. “And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck,” he says.

For leaders, Grant’s approach is even more important because the composition of your team and people’s individual approaches may determine success or failure.

This holds true for corporate cultures as well. Having the wrong ratio of givers to takers can create a toxic culture producing poor morale and poor results. It's also critical for leaders because people are always watching your behavior, even when you think they're not.

Are you a giver? Are you sure?

Think about yourself: what is your primary style? Are you really a giver, or do you keep a tally sheet of who returns the favor?

What about the people you work with? Identify one person in each category: giver, matcher and taker. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see people, and yourself, in a different way.

And please do me a favor: use the easy buttons below to share this with friends who might benefit -- even the takers.

If you're a giver, please share this message with people you care about simply hit the "share" button below. ;-)

To share your thoughts with me you can visit or have me sign you up for my exclusive Sunday Coffee newsletter, drop me a line on our contact page.

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How to Find Your Purpose in Life

Tomorrow is Memorial Day here in the U.S., when we honor the men and women who have fought and died in military service for our country. I am tremendously grateful for the sacrifices of our military and law enforcement officers.
 
In my leader coaching and training workshops, I often refer to military, law enforcement, and other protectors as the ultimate example of the power of purpose. These brave men and women are so aligned with their purpose – to preserve freedom and protect people – that they are willing to put their own lives on the line every day.
 
As you reflect on these brave souls this Memorial Day, you might also take time to consider your own purpose in life.
 
Can you imagine finding value in your work that would so deeply resonate with you?
 
The power of purpose
Though I am not making the same commitment as these brave people, I’ve been lucky enough to find my purpose in helping leaders find their truth and become great communicators.
 
In the first five months of this year I’ve traveled thousands of miles nearly every week to work with clients throughout the country, but I don’t get tired because I thrive on people experiencing personal growth. The feeling that I’m helping to change lives lets me tap the power of my purpose.
 
Speaking at a conference in Las Vegas last week, I witnessed the emotional resonance of purpose. In an exercise, I had asked people to share with a partner their life or business purpose. As I handed the microphone to audience members they gave powerful answers that brought tears to them and others in the room.

Most important days in your life
Richard Leider is an executive life coach and bestselling author of 11 books, including The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, and Better. In his TED Talk, How to Unlock the Power of Purpose, Leider describes leading walking tours in Africa for decades, where he would interview tribal leaders.
 
He recounts his story of when a wise elder, becoming frustrated with too many questions around the fire, posed his own question to Leider: “Do you know the two most important days in your life?”
 
Leider replied, the day you are born and the day you die. The elder countered, the two most important days are the day you are born and the day you know why.
 
Leider cites research that having a clear purpose in life, particularly as we age, may ward off mental decline and increase life expectancy by up to seven years.
 
Search for meaning
Vicktor Frankl, soon after surviving Nazi concentration camps, wrote the seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning. He noted similar benefits, observing that when his fellow prisoners would lose their sense of purpose, they were more likely to become sick and die.
  
Finding your purpose
Leider, the executive life coach, has a couple of simple methods for unearthing your calling in your vocation.
 
First, ask these questions and rate your answer with a 1 (lowest ranking) to 10 (highest ranking):

1. Do you love what you do? 1-10
 
2. Is there any part of your day where you love what you do? 1-10
 
3. Are there any people you love serving more than others? 1-10
 
Your answers to these questions will give you clues about areas that hint at passion in your life. If you rated your job poorly, but love coaching soccer or mentoring students, it may be a clue that you should be teaching or coaching.
 
If you have certain clients that you like serving more than others, perhaps seniors or recent graduates, you might have also identified a niche that inspires you.
 
The napkin test

Second, here is Leider’s “Napkin Test,” which he calls the Purpose Formula: G + P + V = C. That is, “Gifts + Passions + Values = Calling.”
 
It’s a simple and elegant approach, but it takes some introspection and work to identify and align your gifts, passions, and values.
 
Leider says you can be fundamentally happier, more fulfilled, and more productive if you bring more of yourself to what you do. From my experience in my life and with my clients, I concur.
 
Finding your purpose can be a long journey, but it’s a road worth traveling.
 
You can travel down this road right now. The slower pace of summer is an ideal time to consider the most important question of your life: what is your purpose?
 
Will you reflect on that as you enjoy this Memorial Day weekend?

To share your thoughts with me you can visit our contact page.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

How to Be Successful in Your Early Career

Congratulations on your college graduation!

You might have heard amazing commencement speeches with advice on your role in changing the world; on thinking globally but acting locally; on finding your bliss and living your dreams.

That is all good and inspirational advice. You should follow your dreams.
 
But as a veteran coach to CEOs and other leaders, I'd like to offer you some practical advice to get you started wherever your journey begins. (This advice will also work for emerging leaders new to the workplace in the past three years.)

These ideas come from my own observations and experiences of success and failure over the past 25 years.
 
Here are a few tips to help you be successful in your early career:
 
Start with face-to-face
You have the most amazing technology in history in the palm of your hand. That smartphone of yours gives you the potential to communicate with anyone in the world.
 
Yet, as a human being, the most important communication of your life will happen face to face – looking into another person’s eyes. Email, text, even voice calls will not replace in-person communication.
 
The moments that matter most in your life will be you looking into people's eyes and talking, whether to one person, ten people, or one thousand. Develop your skills in talking face to face.
 
Listen more than you talk
You no doubt have great ideas and you see the silly things people do in the workplace. When you’re first settling in, make sure you listen much more than you talk.
 
There will be plenty of time to offer up your good ideas. If you want people to think you’re really smart, listen carefully to the smart things they say and repeat them back at other times, so they know you’ve got it.


Focus on people
Whatever field you enter in business or nonprofits, your organization will have a mission. Keep your eye on the people affected by that mission.
 
People and organizations most often make mistakes because they lose sight of the people who are affected -- customers, employees, recipients, donors, or others.
 
You'll never go wrong by focusing on the people instead of the numbers, the politics, the organization, the bureaucracy. The power is with the people. Direct your attention to the people.
 
Build relationships
Speaking of people, you should concentrate on creating real relationships with the people in your organization. Not just the higher-ups, but also the people all around you at every level. Anything you have or will achieve in life is the result of people and your relationships.
 
This will always be true. In the past it was your parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. In the future, take time to build relationships that will create your success.
 
Never burn a bridge
Just as in college and the rest of your life, there will be people you can’t stand. Don’t permanently kill those relationships by some impulsive action that will make you feel good today.
 
The person you have a problem with today may well be your friend, ally, or partner tomorrow. If you burn the bridge and destroy the relationship, you'll never get the chance. To protect yourself, don't let people push your buttons.
 
Be a leader
You may not have the title, but you should think and act like a leader. Your success will come from your ability to influence others in a positive way. Observe what leaders do – both good and bad – and emulate the best of what you learn.
 
My first job out of college was in sales and marketing for Procter & Gamble, where they would tell me “you’re always selling yourself, your ideas, and your company.” This idea has been one of my most powerful forces during decades in business.
 
Persevere
This is probably the most important factor for your success in life. Don’t give up too easily. Become someone who stays positive and does the hard work even when things aren’t going well.
 
I've seen it time and time again: When the average person gives up, is the time that they were about to break through.

Fight for yourself, your beliefs and your ideas. Show the world your passion and keep fighting until you break through. Some say 80 percent of success in life is showing up.  Keep showing up!
 
Enjoy Yourself
Very little is as serious as it seems to you at this time. Don’t take it all too seriously. Have fun in everything you do.
 
Congratulations college graduate!