So it's Thanksgiving again.
A wonderful holiday. I think the popular sentiment is that unless you're seven years old, Thanksgiving kicks Christmas' ass in terms of holidays.
No gifting pressure. Family. Falls on a Thursday each year. Food-centric. Good times.
And Thanksgiving has a more universal inclusive theme – a day to give thanks.
Many people take this opportunity to list what they are grateful for, and compared to most days, this in itself is a huge upgrade.
In terms of feelings, the feeling of gratitude is in the Major Leagues (could not resist dropping a baseball metaphor). It's a very, very good feeling to activate. Certainly you know this because it feels good to activate feelings of gratitude.
Compared to lower grade feelings such as guilt, blame or overwhelm, gratitude rules. Better things flow to you when you're tapped into feelings of gratitude.
If your goal is to reach the Majors, then practicing the feeling of gratitude will certainly get the job done. Relatively speaking, if you tap into the feeling of gratitude every day, you will have a better life than 97% of the people on the planet.
However, this post is intended for those who or those who are curious what it would be like to transcend the Majors and reach the All-Star level, the upper 3%.
Allow me to run with my baseball analogy for a moment, if you will…
Consider that the average Major Leaguer gets a hit one out of every four times at bat. Doing the math (1/4), this means the player has a batting average of .250.
To be considered an excellent hitter, the magic number is to have a batting average of .300+. Breaking this down over the course of a 162-game season with 6 games a week and around 4 at-bats per game, the difference between an average hitter and an excellent hitter is one hit per week.
One hit per week.
One hit per week separates the journeyman from the All-Star. Over a career, that one hit a week can easily add up to a differential of tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars for a Major League baseball player.
My point is that over time, small tweaks have huge effects. Exponentially powerful effects.
Coming back to the subject of gratitude, while practicing the feeling of gratitude is good, if you can make the small tweak and upgrade to the feeling of appreciation, over time, the difference in your life will be huge.
When tapping into gratitude (focusing on something you are thankful to have in your life), you simply cannot help but call up a thought of when you DID NOT HAVE IT.
Consider the genesis of the Thanksgiving tradition. The pilgrims were using the harvest to celebrate (activates a good feeling) that they had survived (activates a not so good feeling) another year.
Try it yourself.
Think of something you are grateful for… let the thought come into your mind.
Wait for a moment…
And I'll bet you a drumstick that in the next moment you will activate a thought that feels 180 degrees away from your original, warm thought.
It's like trying not to think of white elephant. The thought just gets activated automatically, outside of your control.
When I do this gratitude exercise, the first thing that pops into my mind is that right now I am grateful to be surrounded by my loving family. Indeed this is a warm feeling thought.
However, two beats later…
I cannot help but activate the opposite feeling.
My memory marches me back to my sophomore in year in college, living 1500 miles for home and spending five days alone in a huge dorm. Thanksgiving dinner was microwaved hot dogs washed down with a wretched mixture of tequila and Hawaiian punch. (Oh, I mixed in a few tears for extra saltiness).
Because gratitude activates both the positive feelings in the present moment as well as reflexively activating the negative feelings of the past, the overall energy of gratitude is mixed. It's sort of like hooking up a battery to a light with corroded electrodes. The light still shines, and while it's much better than nothing, it's only a fraction as bright as it could be if the connection was just cleaned up.
So how do we upgrade and clean up that connection? How to we go from "good" to Very Cool?
Upgrade from Gratitude to Appreciation.
Moving to appreciation is the small tweak that will lift you to the All-Star level.
Appreciation is pure and clean without the caffeine. Feelings of appreciation activate only the good stuff in the present moment, without dredging up the unwanted past experiences.
Instead of a gratitude list, focus your thoughts on what you appreciate.
What do you appreciate about your life? Your body? Your work? Your friends? Your relationships? Your family members (even the ones who get under your skin)?
Appreciation is all about the present.
And all about the good.
Take a moment to feel the subtle but unmistakable difference between gratitude and appreciation.
This is important because whatever feelings you activate — whether you are aware of them or not — will determine what you attract in your life.
And if you want to live a Very Cool Life, you need to pay attention at this level of detail.
So use this holiday as the springboard to raise your awareness and upgrade to becoming an Appreciator.
P.S. Yes, I made this same point last year in a video.
I will make the same point next year.
I think it's THAT important.
My mom passed on five years ago today.
I miss her, but her spirit has never left me. For that, I am forever blessed.
I wrote this piece several years ago.
I stumbled across a copy of it today looking for a printer manual.
Of course, I do not view such events as random events. I sat and re-read the article and thought of my mom.
And so I re-print it now with loving thoughts…
Zen and the Art of Making Lemonade
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease (or rather, that’s the label that seems to have stuck. Truth is, nobody really knows for certain what she suffers from).
When I talk to friends for the first time in a while, they usually ask me about my mom’s condition. I’m always appreciative that they ask and I always wish that I had a better answer for them. A contributing factor in my decision to move back East was so that I could be closer to siblings, nephews, and nieces, and my mother, Mary.
Since a few weeks after my father’s death, Mary has lived in full-time care facility. She sleeps and eats about 25 minutes from where I live. Typing that sentence, even after a year and a half, it still doesn’t feel right. Probably never will.
And yet it is.
My mom was one of my closest friends, my trusted confidant, and my unwavering support system. As time passes, the most distressing part of dealing with the reality of who she is today lies in the fact that it becomes harder for me to remember who she was. I find it difficult to visit her. The "institutionalization" of the whole process unnerves me.
Alzheimer’s patients have a tendency to wander, especially at dusk. Considered a flight risk, they are locked in their own wing of the housing complex. I have to ask someone I do not know to punch in a code and open a door so that I can see my mom.
Whenever I walk in, she recognizes me immediately with an expression that conveys both joy and relief. I joke that I’m here to "spring her for a couple hours" and she’s very eager to go for a ride and listen to some Sinatra on the CD player.
My mother and I can no longer hold a conversation. Mom has trouble getting any words out. She points a lot. She giggles constantly. I’ve stopped trying to ask too many questions, but occasionally I’ll throw one in there to test what she still knows.
She will have no recollection that her sister came to see her a few days before. And yet, she will point at the Ralph Lauren outlet among a cluster of similar buildings, clearly recognizing the place where she bought so many things for herself, always proud of the great bargains she’d found.
We never know what really lies in the mind of another, do we?
On the day that I write this, mom and I decided that some ice cream would be a splendid way to end our afternoon together. Our menus had great big pictures of all the sundaes. I thought maybe mom could point to what looked good, but deep inside I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I made the executive decision — Heath Bar Crunch sundaes all around. Triple scoops.
The sundaes arrived in deep, old fashioned glasses with an extra long spoon. The fudge and caramel were so warm that they wouldn’t stick to the ice cream. My mother’s first eager spoonful ended up in her lap. Her eyes expressed her frustration and she even managed a heartfelt, "I’m sorry."
Assuring her that everything was fine, I had her put the spoon down. I asked her to lean forward. I showed her how to lean forward. I had her open her mouth and I fed her two spoonfuls. She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the flavor in her mouth. I had two spoonfuls. And then back to her.
With my mom, I’ve learned that it’s much better to just enjoy our experiences together in the present moment, free of judging her against the past of who she once was. When I allow myself to just appreciate the ice cream in front of me and focus on what we are still able to do together, feelings of gratitude replace the feelings of anger and despair.
And the truth was that we had a good day. We laughed.
Later that evening I met up with one of my oldest friends. He asked me how my mother was and I told him of our day together. He shared that his mother was starting to show the same sorts of symptoms. We both took a swig of our beers, shaking our heads as we swallowed.
And he said, "you just gotta make lemonade, you know?"
One year ago, I was ready for something new.
In fact, I'd been ready for a while…
I'd been coaching for a decade and a half and I'd worked with over 1000 clients in that time. I'd accomplished a lot in the field; I'd created many successful groups, programs, trainings, and delivered keynote talks at industry conferences. Doing what I do, I have been able to impact a lot of people's lives in a positive way.
And that is a very cool thing…
While I am super proud of that fact, and that I've been able to create a life of freedom doing what I love, I'd fallen into a bit of a rut in my business. In short, I just wasn't putting myself out there as much as I had in the past.
I do not think this was so much about sloth (though I was clearly coasting), as much as it was about clarity.
I'd been doing what I do for so long, that somewhere along the way, I lost my connection with where I was going.
How did this happen, I wondered? And more important, how did I get my sense of focus back?
I did not have an answer to the latter question. But as I thought about it, I got some insight to where I took my first steps off the path.
Let me back my story up for a moment.
Writing a book has always been a goal of mine. And so a couple years ago, I got moving on this front. I got an agent. I got my ideas together and wrote page after page of proposals and revisions.
After months of months of consuming work, I had editors of major publishers who believed in me, fighting for me to get a deal done. Everything looked good.
And then in a week, after running my ideas through their marketing departments, they dropped me cold.
Sorry. Bye… in an e-mail. My agent moved on as well.
I'd expended massive amounts of my energy writing hundreds of pages of material and trying to persuade these people that I belonged in their club. And in the end, they would not let me in.
This pissed me off, sure.
But as I look back now with a clearer eye, I can see how I allowed this experience to erode my confidence.
While I still knew I had a powerful message to offer people, the whispering began in the back of my mind…
Maybe I don't have anything much to say?
Maybe nobody really cares…
Maybe I've been fooling myself this whole time…
Friends, readers, and family would ask me about my book and I would tell them my story as quickly as possible, trying not to stir up the sense of shame I felt at my failure.
While I did not want to admit it out of pride, I'd had the wind knocked out of me and some doubtful thoughts about myself. As a result, I just kind of began drifting along… doing what I'd done in the past, but not really sure where to direct my energy.
I found myself lacking something important; something I missed having — a clear destination.
So my life moved on in a sort of limbo. Everything was good, but I wanted more. I did my best to make peace with the uncertainty of it all and just wait for clarity.
So, back to last autumn…
I traveled with my wife to a coaching and marketing event in Tuscon, AZ. While I used to attend such events all the time (in fact I met my wife at one), I'd not been to one in years. I'd just allowed myself to get out of the habit.
If you attend such events, or make the space in your life to surround yourself with like-minded people, you know the power of putting yourself in such environments.
I met with many vibrant people over the next few days. People who were up to something. People who had a clear direction.
And the seed of inspiration taking root within me again. I wanted my old fire back. I wanted to feel focused again.
Returning from the desert, I felt the old spark of inspiration stirring, and I wanted it to catch flame.
I knew how I wanted to feel: I wanted to feel clear in my direction and clear in my message. I wanted to have everything that I do and offer to fit under a unified, authentic brand. I wanted things to be simple.
I knew what I wanted, but I did not know how to get there.
Ready for the answers to the questions I'd been asking myself, I made a decision. I leaped.
I bucked up and invested in myself. In a big way.
Following the advice I'd doled out for years, I hired someone to coach me and to help me see everything I was missing.
While it all felt risky, I knew I wasn't really buying my coach with my money. I was buying something better.
I was buying me. I was buying clarity. I was buying direction.
We would begin our coaching in the new year.
In the meantime…
As Christmas rolled around, Karin informed me that I was to be a father.
Best. Christmas. Present. Ever.
Among the sounds of celebratory champagne glasses clinking, I heard the unmistakable TICK TOCK of a clock in the background.
With a baby on the way, we were playing for "keepsies" now. I needed to get clear and get going. Now.
The Power of Permission
I flew out to Vegas and met with my coach in March. I told him what I wanted from our meeting… the clarity, the direction, the brand.
Very quickly I began telling him my thoughts. I told him about my vision for Very Cool Life and the principles behind the concept.
I told him my story about how I've seen the world in this particular way since I was a little boy…
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see what I really wanted from my coach that day.
I wanted his permission.
I wanted someone with no emotional attachment to my vision (and tremendous experience with marketing and brands) to give me his blessing. This sounds weird to me too, but after my experience with the big-time publishing world, this is the real reason I was sitting in his office.
This is my story. It's all true. Can this be my brand? Pretty please?
Seven words from my coach ("I think you could totally do this") and the dam cracked open. The doubts that I'd been carrying with me just disintegrated. I could see where I wanted to go again.I finished the outline for my new book (I needed to start fresh) before my plane landed in New York State.
Within two months, I had completed writing it.
Most important, I really liked what I created. I found the more wrote, the clearer my thoughts became and the tighter my message.
In fact, I discovered that I had more than a book; I had entire system to share with people.
And so I continued creating…
In the meantime,
I was possessed.
Energized by my newfound clarity, I began upgrading all of my environments (one of my messages in my book, The Very Cool Life Code: The 7 Keys for Unlocking a Life of Freedom, Ease and Connection).
I painted my entire house, including the garage. I cleaned out my office, throwing out old clients files and training tools I'd invested thousands on in the past. If it did not fit my new direction, it went in the dumpster. I literally threw out over a ton of stuff.I spent weeks sorting through everything I owned. I touched every thing in my possession and evaluated its place in my life. I organized every computer file, I destroyed old ideas.
(I highly recommend this experience, but it is A LOT of work!)
The more I cleared, the clearer everything became. For the first time in my life, I had the ability and the desire to sit and plan out my upcoming year. The clarity was giving birth to feelings of simplicity.
With all my intense inward focus, I did not have much extra personal RAM. I was not connecting with my e-mail list much, and only throwing out the occasional blog post.
I hoped you'd wait for me. And I'd like to invite you to stick with me… because the best is yet to come!
My son Alex was born at the end of the summer.
Getting into the impact of that experience would turn this into an even longer post without scratching the surface. So I'll just say it was very, very cool.
At the same time, my other baby emerged into the world.All the materials and planning for my program's release are in the final stages. Turns out, writing the book is the easiest part. Putting everything together for a proper launch is quite an undertaking. Graphic design, websites, trademarks, recordings, videos… Massive!
(To give you a sneak preview, my new program is called The Very Cool Life™ Total Freedom System. It comes with three different books , 12 audio CDs, and will be supported by live gatherings — think Florida beach in February and gorgeous Vermont in the summer — and an awesome online community.)
Obviously, you can expect to hear more about the launch and such in the days ahead.
I'm very proud of what's been created over the past year of my life and eager to share it with you…
And so, this about wraps up my little (long) update.
Confusion to Decision to Rebirth.
I love the way clarity feels.
And focus.Life is deeper and fuller than ever before. New dimensions. With more every day.
I like it all.I'll be in touch soon and I hope your life feels very cool!