CAT | Positive Attitude
After years of ignoring it, I finally face the fact that I was (am) depressed. Not just a little bump in the road, but truly, honestly depressed. I had been in denial for over three years.
Depression doesn’t look like what most people think. Depressed people don’t always lie in a fetal position doing nothing day after day. Most depressed people struggle through the day, doing what needs to be done.
As strange as it sounds, most people who are depressed don’t realize it. At least not at first. Depressed people are happy a lot of the time. I know that sounds strange. But a person can be happy in the moment and depressed overall. As with any other task, depressed people can put on a happy face – and actually be happy – a lot of the time.
Forcing yourself into smiling and putting yourself into “happy” situations can actually be very theraputic.
Depression doesn’t start out with feeling completely unable to cope. It starts out with feeling not quite right. Then you realize that it’s been awhile since you believed that you could conquer a big challenge. At some point you realize that you have more difficulty making decisions. Especially decisions you used to make very easily. You feel isolated. Even if you spend all your time with friends and family, you feel like there’s a barrier between you.
I’ve always been forgetful and distracted. I’ve always had to come to a complete stop in order to think things through. But with depression, I would stop and then not be able to think. It became very difficult to focus. I had to isolate myself to experience a sense of focus.
After spending 50 years being extremely positive, I found myself focusing on my failures. Instead of focusing on what I CAN DO, I focused on what I can’t do. I kept track of failures instead of keeping track of victories.
I never felt suicidal.
But I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud because I only saw my defeats and not my victories.
Depressed people laugh. They love. They do everything that everyone else does. But all too often it’s a mask they put on so that they don’t have to be the person they really are – overwhelmed and feeling like no one can possibly understand.
My depression started when my wife of 19 years left me. She was and is clinically depressed. She has fought this fight for as long as I’ve known her. Her specific circumstances led her to stop trying to live the life she was living and move to something else.
She will never be truly happy. Not like the rest of the world experiences happiness. There’s an upper limit on her happiness. It’s not her fault. She’s not a horrible person and I can’t blame her for anything she’s done. A piece of me still loves her.
At the same time, she has been a part of my life for 25 years and losing her tore me apart. To be honest, it took me a few years to realize that I had not been happy in that marriage for a long time. But we cling to the familiar.
Having a life coach helped me phenomenally. Jenifer Landers kicks ass!
Today I can honestly say that I accept that you can love someone and know that you will never be together. Some things just don’t work. And then I fell in love with another woman who was also wrong for me. She showed me greater happiness than I had known as an adult. But we were also not meant to be together.
I had moments and hours and day of happiness.
But my depression had a life of its own. No matter how much happiness I felt in spurts, I felt a general sense of darkness and grey. The world was in black and white – with ocassional moments of color. Perhaps everyone thought I was happy because I put on a happy face. But it’s a bigger picture.
I worked hard to keep working. I disciplined myself to move forward. I found numb, mechanical things I could do. I took a full year longer to finish a book than I had any excuse for. I started and stopped projects that cost me thousands of dollars. One huge, massive push in my business lost me $300,000 because I could not focus enough to put my head down and push through to the moment of success.
Financial losses in the middle of a massive recession can be depressing enough.
But I can’t blame the recession for my depression. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through thirty years of thinking about life, it’s that 90% of my state of mind is determined by what *I* bring to the situation. So when I am in a positive mood, things roll off my back. And when I am in a negative mood, everything contributes to the bad mood.
In early 2012 I decided to seek help with my depression. Like most people who experience depression, I probably waited too long. It took one appointment to put me on the right track. But it took me eight months to realize that I was headed in the right direction.
I’m not saying I’m “cured” or that I’ll ever go back to being as amazingly happy as I have been most of my life. But the darkness is lifting. I know I can’t go back, but I also know that I CAN go forward.
I won’t presume to give any advice on this topic except, if you think you might be depressed, seek help. Talk to someone. All those people who “can’t understand what you’re going through” will be extremely supportive. And you’ll be surprised at how many of them understand exactly what you’re going through.
You are not alone.
Life is funny sometimes. You can go along enjoying the “status quo” for years – even if you’re dissatisfied or unhappy. There is something built into the human psyche that keeps us in one place even when we aren’t happy there. But eventually change happens. Either we decide to make a change, or it is thrust upon us by other people or events.
Once we get into the “change” mode, we seem to be more willing to accept change. This is very common with health issues. Once we decide to exercise more, we are also very likely to eat better and consider other habits that might be bad for us. I guess the idea is, as long as I’m working on Me I might as work on all of me!
I’ve been through some personal turbulence over the last few years. In the middle of it all I started to think in terms of the “New Normal.” For example, when my daughter went off to college. I was not ready to be alone! I hadn’t lived alone in more than twenty years!
Your brain doesn’t just create pathways for habits and memories: It creates trenches! We’re not talking about a little line drawn in the dirt. After ten, fifteen, twenty years your habits are trenches deep enough to stand in. So when you dig yourself out, you may be uncomfortable with your situation. It’s not wrong. It’s just different.
And you can never go back.
That’s why you need to create the new normal.
Recently, my daughter took some time off from college. Yesterday she moved out again . . . back to Southern California.
You know how moves are. There’s lots of activity getting ready. Packing boxes. Sorting things. Even though she’s only been home about six months, she still had to go through the ritual. Then we had to pack the truck – some from her girl friend’s house, some from ours. A long day of lifting followed by a nice sit down dinner at a restaurant.
And in the morning they drove off.
I wandered around a bit. Made some lists of things to clean and things do. Planning a big reorganization of my study (formerly her bedroom).
Thats when I realized that I was consciously – and comfortably – creating a New Normal. I didn’t resist it (like last time). I didn’t deny that it was happening (like last time). I didn’t put it off (like last time). In fact I embraced it. I will certainly miss my daughter, but I’m much more comfortable with the idea of her moving out and me living alone than I was two years ago.
There’s no denying that experience goes a long way. I went through the moving out and being alone transition once. So I know a bit about what to expect. The funny thing is, I had eighteen years to prepare the first time and I wasn’t ready. I had six months to prepare this time and I *am* ready.
Change is always easier if you’re the one creating the change. But even if you didn’t create it, welcoming it and getting used to it helps a lot.
And now I can get back on the track of finding and building my next New Normal.
Yesterday, my daughter wandered in and asked me if I had a good day. Yes. Yes I did!
“Oh,” she said, “What happened?”
Oddly enough, nothing spectacular. It was a not-too-busy day, but still filled with lots of good little things. No big events. No big projects. No surprises. Nothing spectacular.
But . . .
Wii Fit says I’ve lost a pound and a half in the last month!
I’m moving my latest book from 99.9% complete to 99.99% complete. Just waiting on two tiny things I can’t control.
I had a nice chat with someone who has been a sometimes-competitor and is now developing a new project – and wants me involved.
Then I had a nice long chat with another sometimes-competitor who has realized that we could create some amazing stuff together.
I outlined a new book I hadn’t thought about writing before. It’s now third in line on my list of products to create!
One of the organizations I’m speaking for asked me to make a connection that could lead to a much stronger relationship between two of my favorite clients.
I made a new friend that I’m certain will add fun and intellectual stimulation to the remainder of the year.
And I finished the evening with a meeting of people who get together once a month and are genuinely happy to see each other and share our victories and defeats.
So when I say nothing really happened, it was the kind of “nothing” that makes a day perfect.
Now let’s see what today brings.
Awhile back I wandered into a restaurant that was refurbishing their side patio dining area. They were planting a number of palm trees. They had obviously put a lot of money into this project, including the purchase of a dozen good-size palm trees.
It really struck me as odd, however, that they planted the trees right up against the walls of the patio area. I mean right up against the wall. It was almost as if the landscaper didn’t know the trees would grow.
I’m sure you’ve seen this too. One time I bought a house and there was a tree planted against the back wall. I knew I had to dig it up before it got large or I’d have it busting through the wall and pushing up against my foundation. On a similar vein, I frequently see trees planted so close together that both of them have stunted growth. They have to share root space and a limited supply of nutrients and water.
To be honest, this article is not about landscaping: It’s about life.
When you look at an idea or an opportunity, do you see the idea or opportunity as it appears in front of you, or as it will be in the years to come? Do you see the new employee as the person in front of you or the person she can become? Do you see your child as the kid in front of you or the man he will become?
I think one of the most powerful forces in the world is a positive mental attitude. And that’s not something that just happens. You have to exercise your PMA just as with any other muscle of success. You have to practice seeing a better future. Practice visualizing what can be.
Trees aren’t the only thing that will change and grow. Everything will change! Your house, your car, your job. Your taste in food, your favorite coffee cup, and the hobbies you take on. Everything changes.
We are comfortable “in the now” because we know what it looks like. When we act on our world, we have a sense of how it will react back to us.
But we need to also look ahead, and look beyond the obvious. Don’t plant the tree you see: Plant the tree it will become. In other words, don’t just look at the world as it is today, but look at what it can – and will – become.
One of the important lessons I learned in creating and growing businesses is that I need to run the business the way I want it to be, not just the way it is. For example, I put in processes and procedures as soon as I can. So even if I only have one employee, I operate with rules and guidelines as if I had five or ten employees. This philosophy can be summarized as “Be the company you want to become.”
If you’ve ever refinished furniture or refurbished anything (toys, houses, collectible signs, etc.), then you know that there’s a skill in seeing what something can become, despite what you see in front of you. Interior designers can see the potential in the room while the rest of us just see the room as it is.
When you get in the habit of seeing potential in all situations and all people, it gives you a certain mental push. For me, it brings a positive spin to things.
What can this opportunity become? What can this relationship become? What can this writing become.
Give it a try!
Plant some trees. But don’t just plant the tree you see.
Do You Worry Enough? Part 3
This is the third and final installment of the series that started here with “Do You Worry Enough?
Worry brings benefits. That sounds odd to us. Let me rephrase it: Spending time thinking about problems brings good things into our lives.
There are two types of “focusing” on problems. The first is to open your mind and let the problems flood in. Perhaps focus is the wrong term. This is more like out-of-focus. Sit down with a pencil and paper and relax. Take a few deep breaths and try to clear your mind. Think about nothing. Focus on the way your breath feels moving in and out.
If you have things to worry about, they will interrupt your relaxation. As a “worry” presents itself, write down a brief note (not a long paragraph). For example, you might write
- College Savings
- Business partner
- Ad revenues
Don’t pass judgment, don’t try to solve the problem, don’t get into details. Just list your worries. Set yourself a time a do this listing for ten or fifteen minutes each day for a week. I guarantee that by day four you will be a lot less worried at night or when you’re concentrating on something else during the day. Why? Because your mind has been allowed to spend some time on the things it knows you should be thinking about!
The next step is to focus more clearly on your problems. For the next several days spend your 10-15 minutes sitting comfortably and “organizing” your problems. You may want to sort the list into categories such a family, finances, employees, etc.
Then spend a little time writing a bit of detail about each concern. For example:
I’m worried about college savings for my kids because I’m starting late. I wonder what college will really cost. What’s my goal? How do I get started? Who can help me? I need to talk to my spouse about this.
Set yourself a strict limit on this activity. No more than 30 minutes a day! You’ll be amazed! It will give you energy. Worry will stop draining your energy. And as you focus on the problem you will naturally break it down into smaller pieces that are much more manageable.
This, in turn, will lead to taking actions that address the problem. In other words, you’ll be working on a solution! What you’ve done is to stop spending your energy trying not to worry. Instead, you are spending a limited amount of energy focusing on issues that need some attention.
Instead of letting “worry” have an unscheduled, unlimited amount of your time, you have allowed a specific amount of time to be used improving your life!
Again, I guarantee that you will see a dramatic reduction in the amount of time spent on unscheduled worry during the day (and night). Your mind knows that you need to spend time on these activities. When you allot this time, your mind is more relaxed and it doesn’t need to force these thoughts upon you.
And, even better, when such thoughts pop into your mind now, they will be productive and bring solutions. The process of focusing on a problem for a specific period and then setting it aside has tremendous power. It organizes your unconscious mind, which works on possible solutions while you’re doing other things. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the solutions come forth into your conscious mind.
Problems never solve themselves: You need to worry in a healthy way and you will find a solution. Just as we have to focus on our happiness and our family and our health, we also need to focus on our problems.
You will never be without problems. But you can be without excessive, unnecessary worry. Allow yourself time to work on your problems and you’ll have a much more restful mind throughout the day. Because you’re worrying enough—and not too much.
“Do not anticipate trouble,
or worry about what may never happen.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Just as There’s Good Stress,
So There’s Good Worry
There’s a lot of “universal” advice out there. The always-present everyone says don’t smoke, exercise more, eat your fruits and vegetables.
One piece of universal advice is to stop worrying, or at least reduce the level of worry in your life. After all, we have plenty to worry about—Money, our children, our parents, our spouse’s happiness, a long list of problems at work, even the health of our pets.
Worrying, we are told, adds stress to our lives and focuses on the negative. It keeps us awake at night, gives us ulcers, and is bad for the economy.
I think that’s all a bunch of baloney.
Worrying is natural. In moderation, worrying is good. There’s something wrong with people who don’t worry enough!
In the big scheme of things, there are a few people who worry too much (some tiny percentage of the population). They have intriguing phobias that become fodder for news stories. This condition (worrying too much) is so rare that most people only learn about it from afternoon TV talk shows.
There is much more of a problem with people who don’t worry enough. Think about this. What’s your image of someone who doesn’t worry about what other people think, doesn’t worry about social norms, doesn’t worry about paying his bills or insuring his car, doesn’t worry about keeping himself clean or being responsible for his own actions? The picture in my mind is a person who is completely irresponsible, who has made a mess of his life and others, and who has left it up to other people to fix his messes.
A handful of these people make it to adulthood without changing their ways. Most, however, go through a long painful process of paying their debts, raising their children, having to work hard, and becoming responsible adults. At which point they find themselves worrying a normal amount—just like the rest of us.
Worrying is a fundamentally good behavior.
As with any other behavior, there is a great benefit to be gained by:
1) Examining the behavior
2) Learning to control the behavior
3) Focusing the behavior
4) And integrating the behavior into our overall understanding of ourselves.
Thus, the behavior–worrying–becomes one more important piece of our success.
Let’s look at three aspects of worrying
– What is worry?
– How much worrying is right?
– How can we focus our worry in order to reap its benefits?
By “worrying” we generally mean that we are thinking about something; the something is usually a problem that needs to be solved (e.g., “Where will be get the money to . . .”) or a concern about future events (e.g., the health of a loved one); our mind wanders back to the something whenever it has the opportunity; and we find ourselves thinking about the something when we don’t want to.
Thus we find ourselves worrying while we try to sleep or while we’re driving, but not when we’re engaged in a project that requires our full attention. For example, work keeps our mind off our troubles.
Interestingly, most people “try not to worry.” In practice this means we try to not think about our problems. But our unconscious mind knows that the problem needs to be addressed. So whenever our mind isn’t busy with something else, the thing we should be thinking about pops up to get its share of attention.
What are you trying to avoid addressing in your life? Why is it that humans think some problems will go away if you ignore them?
Don’t think about the roof and it won’t leak. Don’t think about your teenager’s risky behavior and it will stop. Don’t think about your relationship problems and they’ll all smooth out.
Baloney! You know it’s not true.
We have problems we want to avoid: We know we should think about them but we don’t want to. One way that we avoid thinking about problems we don’t want to think about “right now” is to spend time on a hobby or on busy work.
Have you ever noticed that our hobbies tend to be rather technical and detailed? Whether it’s carving or needlework or gardening or making things or whatever. Our hobbies fill our minds and are distractions. This is good–in fact it’s extremely good for our mental health–unless we’re using it to avoid thinking about a problem that needs to be addressed.
Let’s face it, we have problems we embrace and we have problems we avoid. Those we embrace are labeled “projects” and those we avoid are labeled “worry.” And the only substantive difference is whether we’re ready to address the problem.
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“One of the wisest men in Des Moines tells me that he has kept track of the 50 principal things he’s worried in the last ten years, jotting ‘em down at the bottom of the pages in his diary in green ink. He finds that not one of them actually happened; but they bothered him just as much as if they had.”
– Harlan Miller
Not too long ago I found myself in two very different settings that resulted in similar, uncomfortable results.
In each setting the following scenario played out:
- People were given the opportunity to ask a room full of experts to help them with their businesses. Name any problem with your challenge and we’ll all brainstorm about how to help you.
- More than one person in this situation simply falls into a daze. “I’m not sure what to ask for. I wish people really understood the value of what I bring.” This was then followed by a stammering, flat sales pitch about their business that no one understands.
- Some people are very excited to have the opportunity for feedback, but are simply lost about what they want.
We all need things. In our personal lives, in our community involvement, and in our business lives. We need advice. We need help. We need each other.
But we also need to know how to ask for what we want.
The chances that you will get what you need without asking for it are pretty slim. The world is full of wonderful, helpful people. But it’s just a statistical improbability that someone is going to give you exactly what you need if you can’t even ask for it.
So where do we get stuck? I believe it is rare that we know what we want and can’t find the words to express it. That means the sticking point is a step back from asking: We are stuck because we don’t know what we want. We might know vaguely but not in a precise way that can lead to actions.
For example, you might know that your business is going in the wrong direction. But how can I help you? If your request is, “I want my business to be more successful,” there’s not much I can do to assist you.
If your request were more precise, then I might be able to help. For example:
- “I need to reduce accounts receivable”
- “I need to figure out which marketing is working”
- “I need to determine the right price for a new product”
Each of these is specific enough that someone could actually offer up assistance.
Figuring out what you really want (so you can articulate it for others) is not particularly difficult. But it does take some effort. Once again, I highly recommend sitting quietly and focusing each day on the things that are important in your life. This daily meditation or quiet time can work miracles for you.
Once you can clearly tell the world what you need, the world can begin working to help you get it. You have probably heard the theory that the world conspires to assist you as soon as you decide to do something. Well, one piece of what’s going on there is that YOU are seeing opportunities more clearly because you’ve articulated goals for yourself.
We all want things. We all need things. And we all need to learn how to ask for what we want.
I recently had a nice two hour drive after one of my appearances. And as I was driving home, I started thinking about how much my success relies on other people. And this is not a simple thing, either.
We all rely on others in many, many ways.
Of course I rely on “clients” to attend an event, subscribe to services, and buy books. That’s the most obvious way I rely on other people. But there are also many other ways.
I rely on my sales guy to help me get jobs, sell advertising, and find sponsors. I rely on friends and connections all over the world to help me find good venues and to get attendees.
I rely on my staff to keep the office running, process orders, ship books, update web sites, and much more. I rely on my business friends and mastermind group members to keep my brain engaged in new ideas.
And of course I rely on my friends to make me laugh, balance my life, and to keep things in perspective.
Now, any one of these people might not see how much I rely on them. But I hope that they all, as a group, know that I would be not be able to achieve much at all without this great support system. Individually, most of them are my friends. As a group they are my support system.
Around January first I wrote some notes to people who had a significant impact on my personal and professional growth in the last year. I am truly blessed to have a such a collection of people in my life.
Through a series of personal, financial, and business challenges, I have relied on other people to keep me engage, keep me pointed in the right direction, and keep my chin up. Through all the crap I’ve gone through in the last few years, this support system has made me feel that the “final analysis” is a very positive one.
If I had been alone during this period, I might have a very different view of the outcome. But my support system has made me realize how blessed I am.
Whether you realize it or not, you rely on a number of people in every part of your life. Pick them well, treat them well, and make sure they know you appreciate them!
Pain is a very interesting thing for humans. All of this applies to physical, mental, and emotional pain.
We develop “mechanisms” for dealing with pain. One simple example is to move slowly or keep our back straight in order to avoid the pain of a spasm.
Another mechanism is to simply forget the pain of the past. Some women say that the only way they would have a second child is that they were able to let the pain of the first childbirth fade away. It’s not that you forget it altogether, but it fades into the background.
Many of us know how debilitating back pain can be. But when your back feels fine, it really feels fine. And then when you have a problem you remember how bad it can get.
For several years I walked with a cane due to the pain of my rheumatoid arthritis. My pain was in my hips, and it made me feel unsteady to walk. Gradually, slowly, over time I used the cane less and less as the inflammation of my disease reduced.
A few months ago I moved to a new apartment. In packing, I came across my cane. It was a real revelation for me that I hadn’t thought about the cane for many years. “Oh that’s where that is.”
Little things like this help us understand that we need to be grateful for the positive changes in our lives. As the pain fades, it’s easy to forget the pain. But from time to time we need to remind ourselves that we’ve moved beyond the pain. Remember the victory and the growth, even as you recall the pain.
There’s a healing component to remembering the pain without reliving it. This is especially true of mental or emotional pain. Stand above the pain of the past and observe it from above. See it, watch it. Don’t feel it and don’t dwell on it.
Prop the mental cane against the corner and leave the pain where it belongs – in the past.
Reality is an interesting concept. Sometimes I think I’m the master at being mis-understood. Why? Because I work a lot with people who aren’t like myself. They interpret the world differently than I do.
Reality has three components:
- Events, actions, or statements
- Context (other things going on more or less at the same time)
The most important of these is the last: Interpretation. This is true because the interpreter takes the input and the context and “translates” these into her reality.
Notice, also, what’s missing: Intention. The intended reality is important to the person who wishes to be understood, but plays no direct role in whether or not he is understood.
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A few months back, my daughter moved away to college. So I moved out of the big, big house into a small apartment. In the big, big house I had a walk-in pantry that was larger than the entire kitchen in my apartment.
The first time my daughter came to visit, she looked at some Cup-a-Soups on top of the refrigerator and said “Oh my God, are you living on ramen noodles?” I said NO, I just didn’t have any other place to put them.
The next time she came to visit I had just been shopping. There were some granola bars on the kitchen counter. And she said, “I hope you’re not living on granola bars.” No. Of course not. But the cupboards are full and I don’t have any place to put them.
You see, my reality didn’t really figure into her perception of my reality.
I always think it’s interesting to contemplate how we all interact with one another even though we have completely different understandings about how the world works. Sometimes it’s a miracle that we “communicate” at all.
As I mentioned, I always lose the battle of relying on what I *intended* someone to see or hear. I didn’t mean to insult you, but I did. I didn’t mean to suggest something, but I did.
The only salvation I have on this front is that, over time, people learn that I’m well-intentioned. So when something could be interpreted more than one way (in their opinion), they begin to give me the benefit of the doubt. Whew!
Just remember that we’re all interpreting our world. And we don’t always realize it.
So try to be generous and kind as you translate your environment into meaningful information.
Most people are well-intentioned most of the time. Assume so and the world will be a better place.