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: 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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When Weakness Becomes Strength

Weakest-Link

Through mindfulness I’ve been better at more accurately analyzing my behavior, perceptions, and thought processes. I had these thoughts while trying to write about leadership. To my surprise, my perceptions changed, and I was able to see what I once thought was a weakness in my leadership style, as strength.

Who was your best leader? What was it about them that made them worthy to follow? I asked this question to myself today and it took quite a while for me to think who my best leader was, and even still I could not reach a consensus.

Assessing and Improving Your Leadership Skills

Instead, what popped into my head were specific leadership strengths that each person had. Certain leaders in my past had completely opposite ways of motivating me. Some of my favorite bosses would motivate me with praise, while others would motivate me by doubting my abilities, and even others would model the expectation and lead by doing.

As this cyclone of leadership memories engulfed my mind, one thing became clearer: there are many ways to be a leader. I see this in my 5th grade team each and every day. We all skin our cats in very different ways, and even though we all have our own unique styles, we are all very effective. Each member of the team has unique backgrounds and experiences, and that has shaped our own excellent leadership styles.

I still find even this slightly perplexing. It’s easier to analyze things when there is one exact formula, but when it comes to leadership there are so many variables to factor in! If there is no standard way to gain leadership skills, how do you know if you’re being a good leader?

What's the formula for effective leadership?  I hope it's not this complicated.

What’s the formula for effective leadership? I hope it’s not this complicated.

At first I thought this was a weakness for me. At times I do not know what makes me a good leader. I am constantly analyzing my behavior, decisions, and interactions with others. I am also very observant of other leaders (both effective and ineffective) and continuously using their behaviors as lessons to adjust my own leadership style. I thought a good leader should always know what they are doing at every moment, stick to their technique and be consistent. Shouldn’t a good leader be confident in their style and not critique it?

When I’m most critical of my leadership style is when things are going smoothly. When my leadership style flows seamlessly is when I get the most analytical and observant. Why is it going well? What am I doing right? How can I make it better? I felt this was a weakness in the sense that I should just go with the flow and let it happen naturally. It took great self-reflection to realize that this continual goal for improvement is what is making me a better leader.

I have to once again credit mindfulness for this self-assessment and improvement in my life. My “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is slowly changing in all facets of my life. It’s okay to strive to be better in all we do, and even if things are going well, it can get better. My perceptions of situations are getting clearer and more accurate, and I’m able to use what I see to make the appropriate decisions and adjustments. It really is an amazing feeling when the bigger picture comes into focus clearer than ever before.

Mindful Leadership: A new way to sustain effective leadership

I strongly suggest that you try mindfulness meditation and see what it can do for you on both a personal and professional level. It has provided a deeper level of thoughts and clarity than I thought possible. Create some space in your life, and see what happens.

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