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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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.

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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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What “CAN’T” I do?

Look out Business World, here I come!

Look out Business World, here I come!


As I near the end of my MBA program, I get this question a lot:

“What do you plan to do with your degree?”

I feel I get this question more often than other MBA graduates as even though my bachelor’s degree was in business, over the past seven years I have been an elementary school teacher. Although I am switching career paths, I have learned a lot from my Master of Education degree, and I feel that I am better prepared than most candidates.

From Teaching to Business: 5 Attractive Assets Experienced Teachers Offer the Business World

Every day I practice my leadership skills amongst a challenging audience. I have unmotivated followers that require unique and individualized attention. I have to design and implement instructional strategies that will not only meet their academic needs, but also inspire them to do their best. Are you underestimating the talent needed to complete these tasks? Then volunteer for one day at your child’s school, and I promise you that your opinion will quickly change.

After evaluating all that I do on a daily basis, my response to their question is: “What can’t I do?” Conceited? No, I just feel extremely well trained by working the several positions I fulfill every day as a teacher:

Planner/Developer:
As a teacher it is critical that I am very organized, and have every moment of my day planned to maximize my classroom’s efficiency. I have developed routines, and procedures throughout the day to maximize smooth transitions between subjects, limit distractions, and increase the focus of my students. Although every minute is accounted for, I must also be flexible throughout the day when unforeseen events occur. I must take into consideration the completion times of tasks, as well as develop a curriculum that best meets the individual needs of all 25 of my students. Everything I do is with the consideration of 25 “unique jobs” in mind.

Record Keeper/Project Manager
I am in charge of keeping, updating, and organizing every piece of data that comes in and out of my office (classroom). Data must be accurately reviewed, quantified, and made easily accessible for my immediate supervisors. Progress must be monitored in weekly increments, and all correspondence with outside parties (parents/principals/psychologists etc.) must be documented and processed. In my profession differentiated instructional plans are continually designed and implemented on a per student basis. Managing a few projects would be nice, I’m used to doing 25 at once.

Presenter/Public Relations
I am very proficient in public speaking, whether it is to students, adults, or other professionals. I have become quite skilled in this area, and have no issues speaking clearly, confidently, and energetically to groups of any size. I utilize each moment to share my passion, my joy, and my enthusiasm with everyone around me.

Marketing:
Marketing was my passion before I entered the field of education, and I feel it is one of my greatest strengths. So what am I selling to my students you might ask? SUCCESS. Try getting a student motivated to do an assignment in a subject they struggle with. Teach them a math formula for the 10th time, and reap the reward when the light bulb goes off in their head and they finally “get it.” Each every day I sell my passion for their future success, doing my best to create diligent and caring citizens that will push through their problems and find creative solutions. When they say they can’t, I show them how they can, one “sales call” at a time.

Manager/Executive
In my classroom I have complete and total control in the design and implementation of the rules, procedures, and routines with my students. I design the curriculum, discipline plan, and every regulation that we all follow. I lead by example and hold them to the same standards I hold myself to. I inspire teamwork and positive interactions in which we all work together and learn from each other in supportive environment. Teachers have been practicing transformational leadership long before it was a popular catchphrase.

Are Teachers Really Leaders in Disguise?

Maybe all I need to do is pick a direction and go?

Maybe all I need to do is pick a direction and go?

The list goes on and on, so what can I do in the business world? I am ready to make waves of impact wherever I land. After reflecting on all I do know, my answer remains the same, “What CAN’T I do?”

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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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“WWOJD?”

What Would Old Josh Do?

What Would Old Josh Do?

One benefit of mindfulness is that it allows you to be quite reflective on your life. Those past moments where you may have reacted poorly to a situation become more apparent with this clearer hindsight, and it helps you to avoid making the same mistakes.

With this clarity, it is quite clear that I have made only several thousand mistakes that I wish I could “redo.” When I look back at many of the mistakes I have made, I see several patterns:

-There were times in life where my impatience made the situation worse.
-I often leapt before I looked, and reacted instead of responded.
-I was stubborn when I should have been flexible and compromised.
-I was angry and jealous when kindness and compassion were needed.
-I would say things without thinking (over and over again)
-I was often reckless, and didn’t see how my actions would affect others

Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them. Now with mindfulness I’m more present in these emotionally charged situations, and I am better at recalling past lessons that I learned the hard way. I like to ask myself, “What Would Old Josh Do?” and it helps me to regain my focus to find a positive solution.

The “Old-Josh” was before I began practicing mindfulness: the impatient, cynical, bitter, stubborn, and self-centered person that I have been slowly changing one meditation at a time. I was very impulsive and immature, and let my emotion drive my behaviors.

If I could only go back in time and teach him what I know now! It still frustrates me to think of all of the problems and stressors that I used to let get in the way of me being a happier and more productive person!

Now I am better at being positive, and I have found there is an upside to so many past mistakes, and I am bound and determined to learn from them. In order to not fall into the same emotional traps, you have to be better at seeing these situations before they occur. Mindfulness helps you maximize your focus in the present moment, and is very helpful in recognizing these patterns.

How to Stop Making the Same Mistakes

We all have those moments where we get frustrated with ourselves for making the same mistakes over and over again. That moment when you walk away and say to yourself, “Why did I just do that?” It could be that moment when your stress gets the best of you, and you yell at your spouse or child, when they were doing nothing wrong. It’s in these situations when we let our emotions trump our rational thoughts that we do the most damage to those around us.

10 Negative Thinking Patterns to Avoid

Mindfulness is great at helping you avoid your knee-jerk reactions and the negative patterns you create for yourself. Even now I’m nowhere close to being perfect, but I am improving in how I handle difficult situations. I still have moments where my initial reaction to a problem is wrong, but I’m better at correcting myself and finding a positive solution, instead of making things worse.

Even though I wish I had started practicing mindfulness long ago, I am thankful I’ve found it now, and I can use these skills to make less mistakes in the future.

Which mistakes are you constantly repeating in your life? Take a mindful moment and examine what you can do to break those patterns!

MISTAKE QUOTE

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Mindfulness for Kids

Peace for Children = Peace for Parents

Peace for Children = Peace for Parents

As many of you may know, I am becoming a father soon. My stay of execution of only having to take care of myself is roughly about six more weeks. Soon my wife and I will be responsible for our son, and I have been exploring mindfulness techniques for new parents. While conducting this research I found several sources about how to start meditations with children, and I wanted to pass those along.

There are several techniques out there, I found these 4 Activities to start meditations for kids at MindBodyGreen.com:

1. Listen! Bell Meditation – Invite kids to sit up tall in “criss-cross applesauce” and let their eyes close. Ring a bell or singing bowl, and ask kids to use their sense of hearing to explore the sound. Ask them to listen very carefully, and as soon as they hear it stop, raise their hand. They can then practice attentive listening without the bell. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds in your space. Which are closest to you? Which are far away? Which to the left, or right? You can also try this meditation while walking down the street or lying in bed before falling asleep.

2. Sing! Relaxation Song – This meditation combines song with touch and brings even the youngest of kids to a place of peace. Invite kids to sit up tall. Sometimes we sing the syllables Sa Ta Na Ma, or sometimes an English affirmation like “I Am Strong.” With each syllable, touch a different finger to your thumb, starting with the pointer finger and moving to the pinky. We practice singing, whispering, and singing quietly to ourselves in our minds. This is a self-soothing exercise and can be done discretely anywhere kids want to calm down, from the train to the classroom desk to the dinner table.

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3. Breathe! Take Five Breath – Your breath is always with you. Learning to check in to it from an early age is a major tool. Try “take 5 breath” where you inhale for five, and exhale for five. Use your fingers to count as you breathe. Slowing your breath will slow down your mind. Can you feel your heart rise and fall as you breathe? Can you feel the breath enter and leave your nose?

4. Watch! Cloud Gazing – Sitting quietly, pay attention to your inhale and exhale. When thoughts or feelings come up, think of them like clouds passing through your mind, which is like the sky. You can watch the clouds come and go just like you can watch clouds in the sky move and shift in their shapes. Kids may not sit too long, but just introducing this concept is a great preparation for adult meditation. And the awareness that things are always changing and things do pass is important to share and practice observing with kids.

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Children who practice mindfulness have experienced reduced stress, increased creativity, and improved decision making. Students who have autism and ADHD have also seen improvements in some initial studies. Would you be willing to try any of these activities with your children, or are there other techniques you use to calm and focus your child?

This soon to be Dad would really appreciate your insight!

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