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.

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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.

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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

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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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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.

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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.)

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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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