Four Decisions: Self Improvement Plan

What is stopping you from being happy?

What is stopping you from being happy?

Introduction:

This post is another contribution to my four part series I have titled The Four Decisions Theory. In a previous blog post, I have described how there are four major decisions in life that create the foundation of who and where we are. These choices play a critical role in not only where we are presently, but also the direction of our future paths.

By using hindsight to reflect upon these choices, it is easier to see what went right and what went wrong. It is very important for everyone to take time and reflect on their own major life events in order to recognize similar opportunities as they arise, or to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Self Improvement Plan of 2009

As I was lying under a beach umbrella in Maui in the summer of 2009, many thoughts began crossing my mind. As a school teacher with only three more weeks of summer vacation left, I was greatly dreading going back to work.

I wasn’t a happy person at this time in my life, and even with the trade winds blowing the sand off my toes, my negative thoughts riddled my emotions. At this moment I did a mental check of my feelings, I was able to look at my own emotions from an outside perspective. These observations were not good. How could I be so negative and depressed in Maui, my favorite place to be in the entire world? Were things really this bad?

The main emotion that angered me was the feeling of being stuck in life. I was in a failing marriage, extremely overweight, and I was not satisfied with my career. Year after year I was watching my friends and family make progress in their lives, but I felt as if I wasn’t going anywhere, and this lack of accomplishment was making me depressed.

The next day I returned to Reno from Maui, and stepped on the scale to find that I had reached the heaviest weight I had ever been, 335 pounds. I had half-heartedly attempted diets in the past, but never put the effort needed to see any success. Once again I was drowning in self-defeating and negative thoughts, and saw no end in sight to my misery.

It was at this moment I looked to past successes in my life and felt a renewed confidence. I was able to go to college and be successful on my own, and I realized that whenever I have put my mind to goals in the past, I was successful. I realized that my problem was that I had no plan to be successful, that I wasn’t really trying my hardest, and the reason I was miserable was because of my own apathy.

It was at this moment that I came up with my Self-Improvement Plan. I began to list the areas of my life in which I was miserable, and came up with a plan to fix it. My first goal was to find a way to get healthy, and be in better shape. I realized that I was an emotional eater, and that I needed to work on my fitness in order to improve my self-esteem.

Weight Loss:

Realizing that I needed to lose close to 100 pounds or more, I needed to take this goal seriously, and consider all options. Working out by myself wasn’t going to work. I needed someone to hold me accountable, and help me through this endeavor. I attended a weight-loss surgery seminar, and decided that I would be a good candidate for a lap-band. In order to get the lap-band, I had to meet with a nutritionist for 12 weeks to show my dedication to weight loss. She helped me by also counseling me through my emotional eating patterns, and giving me positive support along the way. Prior to my weight loss surgery, I had lost 40 pounds on my own, and found the energy and confidence that was missing in my life.

Me in 2009 :(

Me in 2009 😦

Career:

I love being a teacher, but it has begun to wear me down over the past 7 years. I was frustrated at the stagnation in my career, having maxed out my pay cycle with 25 years to go, and getting little input into the curriculum and pedagogy strategies that were being forced down our throats. Every night I was working 10 or more hours with little appreciation for my principal or parents, and I had had enough. I came up with the idea of getting my MBA after my weight loss surgery.

Even though I knew I wanted to change my career, I felt that putting all of my effort to each goal individually would help me to be more successful. Once I got control of my health and fitness, I began studying for the GMAT, and was accepted into the MBA program at the University of Nevada. By surrounding myself with talented and ambitious individuals in my MBA program, I feel like I am a talented individual gain, not “just at teacher,” and I am excited about my future professional career.

Teachers can only do so much. #badparenting

Teachers can only do so much. #badparenting

Marital Awakening:

During this improvement plan, I was also beginning to realize how troubled my first marriage truly was. Instead of ignoring this issue, I was able to see the future of my ex-wife and my own, were drifting in different directions. We began going to marital counseling, and after many months, we realized that we were at an impasse, and no compromises could be reached. My ex-wife is a wonderful person, and out of respect to her, I do not wish to divulge any more details. After realizing my ex-wife and I both wanted different things in life, we decided that a divorce was best for both parties.

It was a very difficult time for me, but I was very fortunate to find the love of my life soon after I divorced. As the old saying goes, “you’ll never find right person in your life until you let go of the wrong person.”

What I Learned

It was the series of choices in my Improvement Plan that allowed me to realize that we are never truly “stuck” in life. Most of the obstacles we feel surround us are entirely mental. Think of the biggest goal you had in your life, or even in your youth? What stopped you from going after it? Was someone physically standing in your way, or did your own fear make your dreams seem unattainable?
Life is too short to not be happy, and if you want things bad enough, you CAN and WILL achieve it. The hardest part is getting started.

As the old saying goes. . . .

As the old saying goes. . . .

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Photo Credit 2: Self Photo 2009
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Four Decisions: Going Back to College

If at first you don't succeed. . .

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Introduction:

This post is another contribution to my four part series I have titled The Four Decisions Theory. In a previous blog post, I have described how there are four major decisions in life that create the foundation of who and where we are. These choices play a critical role in not only where we are presently, but also the direction of our future paths.

By using hindsight to reflect upon these choices, it is easier to see what went right and what went wrong. It is very important for everyone to take time and reflect on their own major life events in order to recognize similar opportunities as they arise, or to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Going to Washington State University:

All decisions in life have some sort of inherit risk to them. Risk and reward are often in direct correlation when it comes to life decisions, and this choice was the greatest gamble in my life. Luckily for me, it also produced my greatest reward.

Now many of you who know me are saying, “What about meeting your wonderful wife? Or what about the birth of your newborn child?” I know with certainty that I would never have met my wife, or be the father I am to my child, without the education and life experiences I gained by going back to college.

As I mentioned in my first life decision, Flunking out of College, my first attempt at higher education failed miserably. I wasn’t focused or mature enough to handle the responsibilities of my coursework, and soon became overly distracted by the social life of college. After taking two years off from school to work in construction, the service industry, and as a garden expert at a hardware store, I felt I was ready to go back to school.

Now I have never really been good at timing, and this decision to go back to college came merely two weeks before the first day of fall semester. Realizing that I needed a fresh start, I decided to apply to Washington State University, and prayed that they could process my application in time.

Even though I knew that I could enroll later in the winter, for some reason I felt a need to go immediately, and hoped that I would receive an acceptance letter. I checked online, called the admissions office, and paced in front of my mailbox daily. Each day I rode a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment until I was finally accepted three days before the semester started.

Washington State University is in Pullman, Washington, about a five-hour drive from where I lived. As soon as I got my letter I quit my job, moved out of the house I was renting with my best friend, loaded everything I owned into the back of my truck, and drove to WSU.

risk-and-reward

This five-hour drive was slightly nerve-wracking as I soon realized that I didn’t have a place to live, a course schedule, or even a job. I also had never been to Pullman other than to attend a WSU football game many years earlier. Even with the enormity of this gamble I was taking, I felt confident that I was going to be successful.

After arriving in Pullman, I was able to find a job, get a schedule, and a place to live in all in the same afternoon. Call it fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, but everything fell into place. From the onset of my first class, I found a passion I never had before in my studies, and I graduated with honors in three years. I even went further with my education than I planned, earning my master’s degree in education.

Life is about risk, and often we get too preoccupied with our failures to get back on the horse and try again. This was a major success in my life, and led me to being the man my wife fell in love with, and the caring and compassionate father I hope to become. It has also fueled my love of learning, and inspires me now in pursuit of my MBA. I wouldn’t even want to guess where I’d be had I not followed my heart and gone back to school.

Go Cougs!

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Four Decisions: Family Isolation

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Introduction:

This post is another contribution to my four part series I have titled The Four Decisions Theory. In a previous blog post, I have described how there are four major decisions in life that create the foundation of who and where we are. These choices play a critical role in not only where we are presently, but also the direction of our future paths.

By using hindsight to reflect upon these choices, it is easier to see what went right and what went wrong. It is very important for everyone to take time and reflect on their own major life events in order to recognize similar opportunities as they arise, or to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Isolation from my Family:

The next life decision that was critical in the development of who I am was isolating myself from my family. As I mentioned in my first decision: Flunking out of College, not all choices in life can be quickly categorized as positive or negative. After many years of reflection, I have assessed this event as an amazingly positive experience in my life.

Without divulging too many family details, this isolation from my family was after I had a major fight with my Mother and Father. I had learned of some family secrets that had been kept from me, and I got to the point that I could not stand the negativity that had encapsulated my family throughout my life.

I had been belittled, mistreated, and could not take this volatile environment any longer. There was always a sharp edge in the interactions between my father, and myself and following his saying, “it’s my way or the highway,” I chose the latter. This freedom came with a steep price. My mother, who I have always been close with, sided with my father and I did not talk to her for over three years as well.

It was a difficult time in my life. I found myself barely scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, and soon became an expert in maximizing the culinary capabilities of instant mashed potatoes and top ramen. I moved into an apartment with my best friend who was also going through family issues, and began self-repairing my emotional and psychological self.

Oh the ENDLESS Possibilities!

Oh the ENDLESS Possibilities!

When I look back at this time in my life, I kept waiting and dreaming of simpler times in which I could put more than $10 worth of gas into my car, or pay all of my bills in the same month. What I failed to realize was that this was the easiest time of my life. When you have nothing, you having nothing to lose, and for once I could dream big without judgment. Although I had nothing of material value, I was rich in so many other ways.

I surrounded myself with people who cared about me, and were supportive in what I did. Our saying during this time was, “family is what you make it,” and we created the family we wish we had growing up. We all shared our major holidays together, and even though I missed my family, I was able to grow mentally and emotionally stronger, and became more resilient and independent.

Avoiding Antagonists

What I learned:

I learned that I was stronger, smarter, and more talented than I had ever been given credit for. I realized that I was able to set and achieve my own goals without the help of my family, and realized the importance of surrounding myself with positive and supportive people.

I also grew a backbone, my self-esteem greatly improved, and I refused to be treated poorly by anyone, including my family. If I was not going to be appreciated for who I am, and what I can do, I can always improve my situation. Life is short, and we are often better than how people treat us.

I credit this one decision for my success, more than the other three. It helped me to develop diligence and persistence when approaching problems, realize my self-worth, and refuse to let people treat me poorly.

Was this lesson worth trading three years of interactions with my entire family? In the end, YES it was. This decision becomes more and more invaluable as life continues to challenge me as an MBA Student, Teacher, Husband, and father.

I look back to these times with great satisfaction when reflecting on how far I have come, and I get excited for future challenges.

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Four Decisions: Flunking Out of College

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As I have mentioned in my previous blog, I believe there are four major decisions in life that create the foundation of who and where we are. These choices play a critical role in not only where we are presently, but also the direction of our future paths.

By using hindsight to reflect upon these choices, it is easier to see what went right and what went wrong. It is very important for everyone to take time and reflect on their own major life events in order to recognize similar opportunities as they arise, or to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

A Strategy for Learning From Mistakes

The first of my four major life decisions is one that is very difficult to share. It involves one of my most critical letdowns in life, and I am still embarrassed from it: flunking out of college. Although this is dark cloud that I am sometimes reluctant to reflect upon, it does have some silver linings that has empowered me to become person I am now. The cliché of “you learn more from your mistakes than your success” is ringing through my ears as I write this:

Upon graduating high school I was pretty directionless when it came to long-term goals, and like most teenagers, I was hoping “to find myself.” I thought this would be best explored by going off to college, and after signing up for a truckload of student loans, I enrolled at Central Washington University hoping for a direction.

WhichWay

I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a career, and I was hoping to randomly discover a passion from the variety of somewhat useless courses all freshmen must take. My parents (especially my father) were very controlling and strict with me, and I enjoyed this new opportunity to make my own decisions for once. The first decision I made: stop going to class.

What a wonderful idea! I soon found that my passions were hanging out with friends, staying up late doing moronic things, and being “too tired” to go to class each day. I forgot what my purpose was in being at college, and began to drift along through life. Soon an academic warning, led academic probation, which further led to an academic suspension.

I thought for a moment that the academic suspension would finally help me wake up. After getting one more chance from appealing the suspension, I fell into the same pattern once again, and was soon completely kicked out of college. I moved back home and rented a house with some friends and was very ashamed and embarrassed.

What did I learn?

I learned that in order to walk a path in life, you have to be passionate and interested in the direction it leads. I also learned that sometimes if the right choice doesn’t present itself at first, it’s okay to take some time and reflect upon your options before you force the issue. It’s okay to be different, to take the path less traveled, and find the direction that works best for you, no matter how unconventional it may be.

Looking back at this decision it provides great clarity when I face present and future major life decisions. I have recalled this moment several times when I feel like: “I must make a decision this very moment or the world will end as I know it.”

Learning From Mistakes

Like the old saying goes, “measure twice, cut once,” it is better to take an extra moment, examine what you want in life, pause to ponder the options, and make the best decision you can.

8 Ways to Turn Disappointment into Success

This decision, although poor in its present moment, has been invaluable to me since:

After taking a year off, working in construction and other various jobs, I was able to realize what I wanted to do in life. When I returned to college at Washington State University, I was more passionate about my education, and gave it my full effort. In three years I was able to graduate with honors, and followed my bachelor’s degree one year later with a master’s degree in education.

Did this lesson pay off? YES, big time! I am more resilient, stronger, and goal oriented. I now pursue all of my goals with a plan in mind, instead of wandering aimlessly and hoping for the answer to come along.

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Four Decisions Theory

What are the four most important decisions you've made in your life?

What are the four most important decisions you’ve made in your life?

In a previous blog about social cognition, I mentioned how my mother and I stumbled upon a homeless man in downtown San Francisco while sightseeing. This is a continuation of that story as after that moment, my mother and I had another interesting conversation that I like to call: “The Four Decisions Theory.”

When reflecting on what may have happened to this man that became homeless, I said, “Whatever happened to that guy, I bet it wasn’t just one thing, it was probably a few critical events or choices in life that led to him sleeping on that doorstep.”

It was at this time I invented my Four Decisions Theory. I feel that everyone’s present place in life can be quantified into four major decisions that were either made correctly or incorrectly.

Keep in mind that this theory is nowhere near scientific or proven, and is nothing more than a hypothesis of a man who may have had one too many Irish Coffees that night. But even still, the more I think about it and share it with others, the more it seems to gain strength and momentum.

My sample set is still embarrassingly small, but nevertheless I feel it is still worth sharing in order to build a conversation that you can have with your own self about the victories and defeats in designing the outcomes of your life.

Think back to the four most important decisions in your life. I’m sure yours had the same components as mine.
-significant risk and fear of the unknown
-hard to predict outcomes
-significant ripple effects in each option
-definitive change, no going back once your choice was made
-each choice led in opposite directions

How to Make a Difficult Decision Using Reason And Intuition

We can never be certain of where our next choice will take us.

We can never be certain of where our next choice will take us.

We are judged by our choices, especially when these options play critical roles in our long-term successes and failures. Everyone faces those moments when there is a fork in the road and a direction must be chosen. These four decisions shape our character, and made us who we are for better or for worse.

The Four Major Decisions that Changed My Life:
1. Flunking out at my first attempt at College
2. Staying away from my family for three years
3. Going to Washington State University
4. My Self-Improvement Plan of 2009

I’m sure you’re asking, why Four Decisions? Why not 3, 10, or even 100 for that matter? I guess four just sounded best at the moment, but it could definitely vary for each individual. My main goal is for you to explore the major decisions you have made thus far in your life, and reflect on what made them either a good or bad choice.

What four major decisions changed your life? I encourage you to keep following this blog as I explore all four of my major life decisions in more detail in future posts.

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A Mindful Leadership Foe: Social Cognition

Are your thoughts and action stuck in a rut?

Are your thoughts and action stuck in a rut?

“What do you think his story is?” My mom asked as we wandered through San Francisco’s Union Square. We had been sightseeing through the city all day, and just finished having dinner, when we saw him. She was pointing to a homeless man sleeping in the doorway of a closed shop.

My response was, “I don’t know, but I bet it isn’t as simple as we hope it is.” My mom looked puzzled, so I continued to explain. “We like to believe it’s something they chose upon themselves. A reason that is easy and clear-cut, a definitive mistake that we can easily point out and blame them for: drugs, alcoholism, or people actually WANTING to be homeless. This allows us to judge them rather than empathize, and it allows us to ignore them with a clear conscience.”

(Pretty deep thought huh? I was even taken back by it myself.)

How Mindfulness Can Improve Self Knowledge

I continued: “Instead of addiction, laziness, or choice, it could be something more complicated. Maybe he has a mental illness and his mother who took care of him recently passed away. It could be possible that he started a business that wasn’t TOO BIG TO FAIL and he lost everything. The possibilities are definitely unique to each person and infinite if you really think about it.”

Since practicing mindfulness, I have seen life in more detail, and can put greater perspective into my thoughts. I have been better at avoiding what I like to call “in the rut thinking,” and I am better at seeing the ripple effect my thoughts have on my own moods, feelings, and choices. With an open mind it is easier to see new possibilities and solutions to chronic and habitual problems, and this was one of those “AH-HA moments.”
Instead of seeing this guy as a GROUP of nameless and faceless homeless people, I finally saw this man as an individual, a unique person, who I chose not to categorize.

When constantly faced with the same stimuli, our brains get desensitized to it. When we see the same things over and over again it is easy getting stuck in categorical thinking. The scientific name for this is social cognition, and it has been a useful skill throughout mankind’s evolution. Think of it is a file cabinet of previous thoughts, emotions, or other stereotypes that your brain stores for easy reference. This increases your cognitive efficiency because instead of having to rationalize and investigate each situation on a unique and individual level, your brain simply goes back to a former frame of reference and makes comparisons.

At certain times of our life, social cognition is very useful. It’s a “herding instinct” that can prove crucial in times of chaos. When others are running away from something, it’s best to join them. It’s also great at providing intuition, letting us know if a situation is dangerous or if a person is acting suspiciously. Social cognition can serve its purpose, but it can also be detrimental.

One of my favorite quotes in life is a great example of social cognition at its worst: “If you always DO what you always DID, you will always GET what you always GOT.” There are times in our life when we need to be able to see beyond the mental constraints our brain places upon us. Moments that call for a revolutionary change, or times where we have become so desensitized to the stimuli around us that our thoughts are locked into a mindless rut.

Your brain is a muscle, and like any muscle, it can be trained and improved. By using mindfulness meditation and clearing your thoughts on a regular basis, the world will show itself in a whole new perspective. You will begin to analyze your routines and actions, and snap out of these mentally dormant stages when social cognition takes over.

Give your brain a mindful workout!

Give your brain a mindful workout!


Great leaders and companies are proactive in overcoming these plagues of social cognition. They see constraints as only temporary obstacles, and work hard to create new strategies to solve problems that others see as the status quo. The cliché of “thinking outside of the box” comes to mind, but I hate that overused term with a passion!

I challenge you to look at your daily routines for you and your workplace, and try to analyze them with a clear and open mind. By examining the routines of not only yourself, but your workplace as well, you will see the inefficient routines and complacent thoughts that you have overlooked for quite a while.

Create space, and respond!

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“One of those people”

TONY-OVERHEAD-DRUM-CIRCLE

I think for many people the thought of trying mindfulness can be quite overwhelming. I remember when I first began doing my mindful meditations I was worried about what others would think, and I was wondering if I wanted to be one of “those types.”

You know what I’m talking about, one of those overly “granola, homemade clothes, organic, free-range, non-processed, alternative, free-spirited, know-it-all, snotty, new-wave types of people that annoy us all. I’m talking of those crazy hipsters that over-share every gimmicky thing they have ever done, and pass on their judgments and experiences without solicitation.

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(I am having flashbacks of traumatic Starbucks conversations that I’ve accidentally overheard.)

The 9 Most Annoying People at Starbucks

If it wasn’t for the mindful leadership class I took as a part of my MBA program, I highly doubt I would ever have had the courage necessary to try mindfulness. There is something to be said about trying something new, but for me I enjoy my comfort zone too much. New experiences usually only occur when I’m being forced, or I stumble upon it accidentally.

Mindfulness is nothing more than creating space, and you’ve probably been doing it for years. Do you remember when you were getting angry and your mom told you to, “count to ten” to calm down? Or have you ever felt that moment of relief after taking a deep breath during a hectic day?

You had a mindful moment.

So you're telling me the peaceful lake isn't included with my meditation package?

So you’re telling me the peaceful lake isn’t included with my meditation package?

We all find our ways of calming down whether it is through prayer, a nap, a favorite song, or exercise. What makes mindfulness so beneficial is its portability. All you need is to focus your thoughts, concentrate on your breath, and sharpen your mind. It’s not about flowing robes, reading the latest books, stacking rocks, or sand gardens.

How to Bring Mindfulness Into Your Life

Mindfulness is about maximizing the most of the present, ignoring the static that distracts us, and putting all of our attention and focus to those things in life that are most important. We are so overwhelmed with the saturation of information of around us that our minds simply cannot keep up.

Mindfulness In Everyday Tasks

How do you take a stand against this constant chatter we are subjected to? That’s what mindfulness does for me. It’s allowing myself 20 minutes every day to sit, reflect, and slow the world down. Don’t worry mindfulness is okay for normal people too.

How much time would you give to have clearer thoughts?

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