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.

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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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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“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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Does EVERYone deserve a second chance?

Mistakes are only bad if you don't learn from them.

Mistakes are only bad if you don’t learn from them.

“Everyone deserves a second chance.” It sounds overly optimistic to me, I absolutely hate blanket statements, but yet I still feel this is true given the appropriate situation. Of course I believe that in situations of gross negligence, theft, violence, or severe disrespect that employees should be dismissed immediately, but I think a lot can be said about a leader in how they deal with failing employees.

I was watching an interview last night of a CEO talking about how he every time he has given an employee a second chance, they have let them down, and he ended up terminating them all over again. He now has a flat policy that if someone has quit and/or been fired, they will never be allowed to work for his business again.

WHEN TO GIVE EMPLOYEES A SECOND CHANCE

Obviously I do not know the exact circumstances as to why each employee for this man was fired, but it seems to me that having such a rigid policy could be detrimental to a company. Often when an employee fails it isn’t just the employee who is at fault. I think blame can also lie with leaders as well.

Maybe it’s the (soon to be) former teacher in me, but most experiences lend themselves to teachable moments. Often when there is a failure to meet expectations, it could be due to many reasons, not just employee incompetence. An effective leader must analyze the situation deeper, and reflect on their actions in regards to employee performance.

Effective leaders must ask themselves the following questions:
1. What have you done to ensure employee success? Could you share in the blame?
2. Were your expectations clear and attainable?
3. Can this serve as a lesson to help further strengthen the employee’s skills?
4. Were your requests of the employee reasonable?
5. Do you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of others?

Employees must be encouraged to take risks, and as long as these risks are taken in the best interest of the company, leaders must be willing to accept failure from time to time. Allow these shortcomings to be coachable opportunities in which you can reflect with your employees, analyze their mistakes, and collaborate on new strategies to ensure success in the future.

Employees who take risks can achieve incredible rewards.

Employees who aren’t afraid to take risks can achieve incredible rewards.

By treating subpar moments as a more positive learning opportunity, your employees will actively seek your advice, and are more likely to utilize your suggestions. If failure is met by a negative confrontation in which employees are belittled and/or they feel their job is threatened, employees will do their best to cover up their mistakes. Employees will be more loyal, and work harder for a leader that supports them even when they fail.

HOW GREAT LEADERS HANDLE BAD NEWS AND CREATE OPPORTUNITIES

Does every employee need a second chance? I guess it all depends. Are you doing everything you can do to make that employee successful? Maybe their shortcomings are a reflection of the work environment you are creating for them. Create space, reflect, and see if there is something you can do to improve the situation.

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