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Building Feelings of Trust as a Leader

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
 
                                                               – Maya Angelou
 

In a training workshop with leaders in Chicago recently, I said something I hadn’t said before.
 
As I showed a slide with Maya Angelou’s thoughts, I told them that if they remember nothing else from our day together, this would be enough to transform their communication in business and life: People will never forget how you made them feel, and trust is a feeling.
 
If a leader can’t build trusted relationships, nothing else matters. And people make feeling-based decisions on whether they trust you.
 
This is particularly true of emotionally charged situations because they deeply encode themselves in our minds. Scientists monitoring real-time brain activity with MRIs have confirmed that we are tribal animals making emotionally based decisions.
 
Protecting our status 
At work and at home and everywhere in between, we have encounters with others. By the end of the day we remember few details but we recall how their communication made us feel.
 
Think about it from your own perspective:
 
What do you remember from all of the communication you had last week?
 
What do you recall from the CEO’s presentation at the all-employee meeting; from that call with your boss; from that personal conversation with your love interest?

Chances are you don’t remember the specifics, but you do retain the emotion – perhaps stress, pleasure, anger, joy, or regret.

That’s a huge part of why we remember few details but we always remember how others made us feel. Throughout the development of human history, we had to know where we stood in the group and with our leaders to protect our status as a member of the tribe. Look around your organization and you’ll know that’s still true.
 
 


Build or break trust
As leaders – and we are all leaders of influence in one way or another – our communication can have a powerful impact. People not only listen to our words, but to our tone and our attitude.

Together, these three elements give us the power to lift people up, to inspire them, or to wound them. All of these factors determine whether we build or break trust in our relationships.
 
If I ask you to reflect for a bit, I’m sure you can come up with something positive that was said to you by a parent, a teacher, or a friend that is still with you today.
 
On the other hand, if you’re like the people I coach, you can easily recall, and fixate on, a comment that was cruel or hateful. (One of the leaders in a workshop last year shared with me a decade-old comment a high school boy made about one of her facial features.)
 
We say we let it go, but the truth is we retain these forever. Right now, you can feel the result of that cutting remark from high school, elementary school, maybe even kindergarten.
 
You remember how they made you feel.
 
What we say, especially the negative, can last a lifetime.  It’s why we have to use this power with great care.  Instead, we don’t plan our communication and often blurt out what comes to mind in the moment. We may regret it later, when it’s too late.
 
How about you?
With your communication style – your words, your tone, and your attitude – how do you make people feel? Are you building trust?

Do they feel respected, or belittled?
 
Empowered, or micro-managed?
 
Engaged, or turned off?
 
As leaders, we should be more mindful. This doesn’t mean we can’t be firm or assertive, but we should be aware of the impact of our communication beyond our intended message.
 
Because they really won’t remember what we said, or what we did, but how we made them feel. And trust, after all, is a feeling.
 
Try to be observant this week and if you can’t figure out how you make them feel, there’s an easy way to find out: Ask and then listen carefully.
 

How to Control Your Jargon

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

– George Bernard Shaw


I don’t often offer financial advice, but given the current quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve, it’s a no-brainer to build incremental value by moving your resources from ill-liquid investments to ETF’s or another high-yield vehicle.

Not sure what I said there, but it’s typical of what people hear when experts in a field try to communicate with people who are not experts in the field, or even people inside their own organizations.

It’s because we use jargon, our own particular language.

Merriam-Webster defines jargon in two ways:

  • The jargon way: “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group”
  • The simple way: “the language used for a particular activity or by a particular group of people”

Speak their language
If you’re trying to communicate with people, you need to speak their language, not your own.

As a communications coach for leaders, I work with many expert groups and individuals in specialized fields -- such as financial services, insurance, technology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and others -- that have their own unique languages.

The problem is that to be successful in any endeavor you’ll need to communicate and influence others to support you -- to buy your product or service, fund your research or donate to your cause.

To call people to action, we must connect with them and build their understanding. Jargon stands in the way.

Talking with jargon becomes a stumbling block. When we hear a word or acronym we don’t understand, it stops us in our tracks.

With this in mind, I’ll offer a few tips on how to deal with your jargon affliction:

Develop jargon awareness. You can’t deal with a problem until you recognize it. The inherent problem with jargon is we get so used to talking in shorthand inside our organization and our industry that we don’t even know we’re doing it.

It’s like being a fish in water and not knowing you’re wet. That’s how immersive jargon becomes. Many experts I’ve worked with even admit to finding a sense of security in their jargon, it’s a place that feels safe and warm.

It’s important to watch yourself, or ask a colleague to help gauge your use of jargon.

Define your terms. What do those initials stand for? What does that term mean? It’s easy enough to define your working terms in a way that will make sense to the people you’re talking with.

This is important, especially with mixed audiences, inside or outside your organization. You never know what level of knowledge people have, so it’s critical to set a foundation of understanding with your terms.

Keep it simple. With this in mind, you should keep it simple. Make sure you cover the bottom line first and then give detail. In training leaders to face reporters, I tell them that most newspapers -- not the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, but USA Today -- are written at a 5th grade level, to provide understanding to everyone.

You can use that as a measure of basic communication for all audiences. Obviously, the more specialized or technically sophisticated your crowd, the higher you can raise your level. If you’re using numbers, you might want to read what I wrote about How to Use Numbers in Presentations.

Use an analogy or story. Even with more specialized audiences, you want to deepen their understanding. A good way to do this is to use an analogy, a metaphor or a story to connect with people and bring home the importance of your point. I wrote about this in Why Great Leaders Tell Stories.

Prior to a network television interview, I worked with the chief researcher on message points about an important new drug the company was introducing. She is super smart and conveys all the technical specifications with ease.

All I needed to remind her was to focus on the people who would benefit from the drug. With that prompt, she told me several true stories of the struggles of real patients. We were both choked up at their misery. Her media interview was phenomenal.

Watch for non-verbals. Some people like to stay in their jargon because they think it makes them seem knowledgeable, showing their expertise. But in fact it makes them distant from the people they’re talking to. It’s like they’re speaking a different language.

People won’t ask you to explain your jargon because they think they should know what it means. They’re afraid of seeming ignorant for asking a “stupid” question.

When we hear a term we don’t understand, it can stop us in our tracks. We’re trying to figure it out and you’ve moved on. But we’re still back there, trying to break through the jargon.

Watch people’s non-verbal cues to you about whether they’re following you. Do they have a distant, distracted look? Furrowed brow? Covering a yawn? ;-)

Ask and listen. Finally, and perhaps most important, ask and listen. Ask people frequently if they understand what you’re saying, what a term or concept means. Asking opens the door for real questions, dialogue and connection.

And making a connection is what it’s all about. We can’t inspire people to action, if they don’t understand us.

Kill the jargon!

Try to slay your jargon for a week and see the difference.

How to Use Pauses During Presentations and Other Communication

Working with a group of leaders in Washington DC recently, I had a woman and a man, who I gave the same advice to, but for different reasons:

–– He came across as dominating the room, continuing to talk endlessly, even after he made his key points. He talked so much, it made people tired of listening to him.

–– She was making great points and was very concise. But she sped through her comments breathlessly. It was hard to listen to her words because you almost felt like you wanted to breathe for her.

While I gave each of them deep advice on their individual presentations, on one point I gave the same tip: please pause during your talk. 

Common problem
This is a common problem for my clients. Most of us fear pausing while communicating with others. That's because a pause of three seconds in front of a room full of staring eyes can feel like three hours.

It's a truism that when preparing for an important presentation, meeting or conversation, most of us focus on what we’re going to say. Few of us plan for a pause — the intentional space when we will stop “saying” and, simply, wait.
 
This is critical because what you don't say can be as important, or more important, than what you say.
 
This is the art of the pause.
 
Artists, graphic designers, and interior designers call this “negative space.” That’s the space that is not filled in a painting, for instance, that gives emphasis to the person or object that is the focal point.
 
Songwriters, too, use a rest — a beat or two of silence — to draw in the listener and to create a sense of anticipation for what comes next.
 
The same is true in your communication: when you strategically pause you give emphasis to what you do say.
 
Effective listening
I’ve stressed the importance of listening and pauses are a critical underpinning of effective listening. If you’re purposely pausing, you’re either giving others the chance to fully understand what you said, or you’re giving them the opportunity to speak so that you can listen to them.
 
I know this advice runs counter to your instincts. When you’re nervous, you often don’t want to stop talking. You’re thinking, “Let’s get this over so I can sit down and breathe again.” Any pause can be frightening. It can seem like an eternity.
 
Trouble is, we have a natural tendency to want to fill the gap — to keep talking.

Human Instinct
I do a lot of executive media training and I warn leaders about reporters using this human instinct to lure people into giving answers they normally wouldn’t dream of saying.
 
I warn them, when doing a media interview, to avoid giving in to the temptation of filling in the gap when they finish answering a reporter’s question.
 
It goes like this: a reporter will ask you a question, you answer it, and the reporter remains quiet, looking at you. Most people will think, “maybe I didn’t give the right answer, maybe she expects me to say more,” and they’ll keep talking. In fact, many people will start to modify their answers to find something acceptable to the reporter.
 
This gives power to the reporter and usually ends badly for the executives when they inevitably go way off of their planned messages.
 
Instead, I have the executive smile and ask the reporter, “Do you have any other questions?” The reporter usually will give a knowing smile and move on.
 
You may never do a media interview, but you’ll face similar opportunities to pause for more effective communication. I want to raise your awareness of the importance of creating space in your communication.
 
You’ll start to notice other situations where a pause might help. Here are a few tips for using pauses effectively in varying circumstances:

Presentations  
In your presentations and meetings, think about how you can strategically place pauses in your talks. For instance, to stress the importance of something, make sure to pause. That might seem obvious, but few of us actually put it into play. 

Pausing at an important point lets people soak up the meaning of what you said. If you’re a fast speaker you should also pause.

Stop and take a breath to give people the chance to catch up with you.
 
Your material might also dictate the need for pauses. Too many speakers, particularly in technical fields, will force-feed their audiences with way too much data.
 
The best policy is to carefully limit your data to the most important information and make sure to pause intermittently to ensure your audience understands what you’re saying.
 
Crucial conversations
When you have these heavy talks, maybe when you have to give bad news, it’s important to create space in the conversation. Give the person an opportunity to react and give feedback.  Help them to comprehend the gravity of your words.  

Of course, pauses are extremely useful in everyday conversations when you want someone to open up. It’s your job to create the space for them to hear you and respond or share themselves.

Sales 
The best salespeople know that you need to make your strongest pitch, ask for the sale, and then be quiet. Let the person fill the vacuum. These closers also avoid the rookie mistake of continuing to talk after the person has said “yes.” In business and in life, once you’ve made the sale, stop selling!

You should look for pauses in communication all around you: Are you pausing appropriately?

Watch how people around you operate: Do they pause, or rattle on forever? Consider conversations where you might benefit from creating space.
 
You’ll be an artist. You’ll be practicing the art of the pause.
 
How do you use pauses in your communications?
 
Hit reply and let me know how you employ pauses or if you have a story about pausing to share with me.

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How to Use Numbers in a Presentation

Numbers numb, stories sell. We don’t deal well with numbers, [they tend] to suspend our sense of emotion, but we respond very, very well to stories. Individual stories will almost always trump a litany of statistics.  
 

– Edward Maibach 

 
Sooner or later you're going to have to make a presentation to convince people to support you, your ideas, or your projects.

You’re often going to have to present data – numbers – to make your case. And in some jobs, numbers may be the bulk of your presentations. I’m looking at you, CFOs, CMOs, actuaries, investor relations and financial experts.

The problem in talking about numbers is that human beings are not naturally gifted to understand or relate to numbers. Data quickly becomes white noise. Instead, as humans we are hardwired for telling and hearing stories.

As my friend Kent Stroman, a conversational fundraising expert for nonprofits, likes to say, “numbers numb, but stories store.” Kent calls him self a "recovering accountant" and has effectively learned to seamlessly blend stories and numbers. (Kent's latest book is called The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn't Work ... and How to Fix It.)

You’ve probably experienced the fact that numbers numb, but stories store yourself. You might sit through an hour-long presentation of data and not remember a thing, but if the speaker had one good story, you’ll be able to recall it immediately.

With this in mind, here are a few tips for communicating with numbers:

Tell your story
First, and most important, remember that numbers don’t stand alone. They are meant to support a larger narrative. Never lose sight of your story.

For instance, at the highest level, your organization’s big message might be: We’ve had some challenges, but we’re moving in the right direction. Your job is to highlight and emphasize the numbers that support this argument.

Less is more 
As an analytical person your instinct will be to give more and more data to support your case, but the truth is that the more numbers you present, the less effective and persuasive you will be. You are no doubt familiar with the concept of diminishing returns. In a world of information overload and minute attention spans, less truly is more.

Hide numbers in a story
As I wrote previously, Stanford Business School research concluded that data included in a story is 22 times more likely to be remembered than data on its own.  And you want your numbers to be remembered, don’t you?

Simplify 
In line with telling a story, you should pare your numbers presentation to a manageable set. Consider using a photo to illustrate your point or a slide with only one key number blown up large. Help them understand why this number is so important in the context of your organization’s story.

Think like a teacher 
By focusing on presenting fewer numbers in a more meaningful way, you develop opportunities to educate your audience on key concepts.

Consider taking the time to drill down on a meaningful idea. For instance, you might ask, “Why are we pushing so hard to reduce expenses?”  Show the effects of each dollar saved in context. Talk about what it means to your stakeholders and the impact it will have on those in the audience.

Your listeners always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” You're much more likely to get support when people understand your rationale, the "why."

Show your personality 
I know you have a lot of interests, but your colleagues may not. Bring your personality to your presentation. Do you run marathons? Use a running analogy: You’ve heard the old sprint versus marathon metaphor. Talk about race times and how your financials compare. “It’s our personal best!”

One of my clients is a CFO who is wicked smart but also has a dry sense of humor that he seldom shared in presentations. I coached him to start slowly to reveal more of himself. When he started opening up and sharing himself, he got great feedback and improved his reputation inside and outside the company.  He told me he felt “liberated” by being himself on stage and in meetings.

Career differentiator
There are also other benefits to becoming a better presenter of numbers. In addition to engaging your listeners more effectively, you will position yourself for greater success. In any organization today, the ability to communicate is the career differentiator.

Too many CFO’s and other “number crunchers” don’t get top jobs because they don’t inspire other people. They are “crunched” by their numbers if you will.

The leaders of your organization are looking for people who not only have technical skills but also leadership and communications skills. If they have to choose between two “numbers people,” the one who can communicate effectively will win every time.

Also, I know it might be hard to believe, but you’ll start enjoying your presentations and feel more confident when you know you’re engaging people.

If you want to talk with me or want to share your experiences with presenting numbers, please contact me.
 

How to Control Your Smartphone Addiction

Ah, vacation…finally.
 
You’ve spent all year looking forward to your beach getaway to spend quality time with your family and disconnect from the rest of the world. You recorded your vacation voice mail; you let your team know you’re really letting go of the office this time; and you set your “out of office” reminder on your email.
 
Here you are, sitting in your lounge chair with your feet in the sand and sun on your face, and the sound of ocean waves in the distance. But instead of reading the book you brought, you find yourself reading an office email about a problem that bothers you, and you’re annoyed.
 
How did this happen? You had good intentions. You weren’t going to check your email; you promised your family you wouldn’t be tethered to your work phone, for once.
 
You’re not alone. Like millions of Americans, you’ve fallen victim to the addictive device.

A recent study by Asurion found that Americans, on average, check their phone once every 12 minutes, or five times an hour, while on vacation. Some Americans check their phone nearly 300 times a day.
 
Taking a vacation from email
While much of this phone focus might be on social media, news, or game apps, many employees check their email while on vacation, for fear of missing out (FOMO) or returning to a flood of emails.
 
Some have real fear of losing status in companies that create 24/7 online cultures. Sure, the company rhetoric talks about “work-life balance” but in reality your boss still expects a reply in the middle of the night, or on vacation. “I know you’re on vacation, but…”
 
In some countries, companies are starting to establish policies in order to help their employees actually enjoy the benefits of work-life balance relating to email.
 
German automaker Daimler instituted the “Mail on Holiday” email policy, allowing employees to auto-delete any emails they receive while they’re away. The auto response gives three options to those who send you emails: it notifies them that their emails will be deleted; if it’s truly important, they can email a colleague you’ve identified; or they can email you again, after you have returned from vacation. The email policy allows employees to actually have time away from the office and unplug from the digital world worry free.

But checking work email during vacation is only a symptom of the larger problem: whether on vacation or not, we have become addicted to our devices, especially our phones.
 
And this is understandable because the content on your phone is scientifically designed to be addictive.
 
You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s the powerful neurochemical that gives you that positive rush when it pings into the pleasure center of your brain. It happens every time you do that thing that is most pleasurable to you, from eating chocolate to achieving a goal to, well, whatever you find so pleasurable.
 
Dopamine is at the heart of any addiction of human beings, including drugs, alcohol, and gambling. So it’s understandable that social media companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have hired teams of scientists to develop the most highly addictive programs possible.
 
Phone addiction
This was confirmed by media-buying firm RadiumOne’s study of Australian consumers and found that dopamine is also released when we use social media. The study concluded that, “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment, or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.”
 
The retweets, likes, and shares also provide a positive reinforcement and reward. Sometimes you don’t even have to physically touch your phone in order to receive positive feelings.
 
Mauricio Delgado, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, shares:
 
Often, if you have the earliest predictor of a reward—a sign of a social media alert, like your phone buzzing—you get a rush of dopamine from that condition stimulus. That might trigger you to go check out the outcome, to see what it is.
 
Responsibility of companies
Even the social media platforms themselves have been forced to admit their time-wasting impact. In a Facebook post earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said a big goal for 2018 was “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.”
 
And Apple says tools in its new iPhone operating system will “help customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices.”
 
There will be new ways to manage how notifications are delivered and Do Not Disturb will have new modes. The most promising feature is Screen Time, which will provide a detailed report of the total amount of time spent in each application and show how often devices are picked up.
 
These are much-needed changes as the research finds the average American checks the phone 80 times a day.
 
Solutions to Unplug
 
Here are a few other tips for you to consider in getting your phone-use habits under control during vacation or throughout your life:
 
Be aware
Besides monitoring your usage with apps, it’s important to be mindful of how and why you’re using social media. It’s important to be intentional with your time and energy. Choose platforms that connect you with others and foster positivity in your life; this can look different from person to person.
 
Set limits
While completely refraining from social media during vacation is a great goal, it may not be for everyone. Some might set aside a certain amount of time each day to engage on social media, while others may want to limit themselves to just one or two platforms.
 
There’s an app for that
While it may seem counterintuitive, you can use an app to help you stop looking at other apps. The Forest app helps you stay focused by showing a seed being planted in a forest, gradually growing into a tree. The longer you leave your phone untouched, the longer the tree will keep growing. But if you leave the app, your tree will die. The growing tree is your reward for staying away from your phone.
 
The app Mute keeps track of how often you check your phone and your daily screen time. You can set goals in the app to help you use your phone less often. It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable.
 
Turn it off
Many people struggle with using social media in moderation and should consider truly unplugging from it. This can range from turning your notifications off to deleting the social media apps from your phone entirely for a given period of time.
 
Digital detox
In order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, many advocate regular breaks from it. A new trend is to practice media-free weekends, using the time to rest and recharge offline.
 
Kick your phone out of the bedroom
Whether they’re on vacation or not, many Americans have difficulty falling asleep – and staying asleep. In my speeches, I’ll ask for a show of hands on whether people look at their phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning, and in the middle of the night. The vast majority of the audience cops to the first two and a lot of hands go up for the third.
 
Did you know that the blue light and the stimulation of the content can prevent a restful night’s sleep?.
 
In fact, a study of young adults in the United States by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the strongest indicator of disturbed sleep is social media use during the 30 minutes right before bed. (By the way, another study by NIH found a clear link with social media and increased depression among young adults.)
 
Try charging your phone in another room so that you’re not tempted to look at it. Consider replacing social media with another activity like reading or journaling, in order to unwind before bed.
 
This year the Iphone, which started the smartphone revolution, turned 11. While the phone’s use brings tremendous benefits, it’s up to each of us to understand its toll and take control.
 
Please contact me to let me know any stories you have about the effects of smartphones on you or other people.

Don't forget to sign up for our my newsletter to get a fresh perspective every Sunday Morning.

John

How to Use Visualization to Achieve Goals and Success

If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.

— Zig Ziglar

  
Our brains are the most complex machines on the face of the earth. Human beings are only beginning to understand the vast power of our minds.
 
That’s why investments in research to explore the brain’s capabilities are increasing with initiatives such as the national BRAIN Initiative, funded with $150 million recently by the National Institutes of Health.
 
One remarkable and unique ability of our brain is to imagine future scenarios in rich detail, like our own virtual reality, to improve our performance under stress.
 
Paint a mental picture
You’ve probably heard the term “visualization.” It’s the process we can use to paint a mental picture of a future activity or event.
 
Athletes, business leaders, scientists and others have discovered that creating a rich, detailed picture of success in our minds can improve our performance.
 
Vivid mental experience
That’s why golf legend Jack Nicklaus said he would visualize every shot in his mind before he took them. Arnold Schwarzenegger would visualize his muscles growing before his workouts. Schwarzenegger said he also envisioned himself as a successful actor and politician for years before entering those professions. He says that in his mind, he had already achieved those goals.
 
Researchers say there are at least two phenomena driving this:

First, these mental pictures stimulate our neural networks, the nerve cells connecting our bodies and minds. When a vivid mental experience is created in our minds, our subconscious doesn’t make a clear distinction between this virtual reality and the actual event.
 
Second, researchers find that this mental rehearsal can calm our amygdala, the fight-or-flight center of fear in our brains. This can result in lower stress symptoms, such as stress hormones and increased heart rate. This gives us greater confidence in our abilities to complete the task at hand under pressure.
 
“Everyone can use imagery to prepare for all kinds of situations, including public presentations and difficult interactions,” says Daniel Kadish, Ph.D., a psychologist. “Mentally rehearsing maintaining a steady assertiveness while the other person is ignoring or distracting you can help you attain your goal.”

Strong and confident
This applies directly to improving your leadership and communications skills as well. When you have an important presentation, meeting or conversation, you can take the time to see yourself as strong and confident in achieving the outcome that you want.
 
If you paint a rich enough picture and try to actually experience the event, your subconscious will think that it has already taken place in the way you viewed it. This will help you to feel more comfortable and confident.
 
Performance coach Tony Robbins uses a ten-minute morning routine to "prime" his mental and emotional state for the day ahead. The last three minutes are dedicated to the visualization of completing a specific goal he is pursuing. "Don't think about making it happen, see it as done," Robbins says.

He imagines a celebration of completion, not only for himself, but he feels gratitude for how that goal will positively affect others.
 
Here’s a classic visualization exercise from The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane (Amazon affiliate link), a book well worth reading on many levels.

If you try this exercise relating to a presentation or other situation you face, take the time to sit quietly and feel as if you are in the room where your communication will take place. See the people. Paint a rich, detailed picture of you achieving success.
 
Try it yourself: visualization exercise
The following visualization is a great tool to increase the amount of power you want to convey. You can try this exercise at home on the couch, at work sitting at your desk, or even in an elevator––whenever you have the opportunity to close your eyes for a minute.

  • Close your eyes and relax.
  • Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant––for example, the day you won a contest for an award.
  • Hear the sounds in the room—the murmurs of approval, the swell of applause.
  • See peoples’ smiles and expressions of warmth and admiration.
     
  • Feel your feet on the ground and the congratulatory handshakes.
  • Above all, experience your feelings, the warm glow of confidence rising within you.

Give this a try before you face a challenging communication situation. You’ll still need to do the work to prepare and rehearse, but you’ll find added confidence and better performance by visualizing your success.

Just visit our contact page to let me know if you have questions or stories about visualizing your success.

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John