Thursday, 21 January 2010

6 Important Keys to Success

Living a successful life is likely the most commonly shared goal of most people in the Western world. What exactly is meant by "successful" though? I offer a quick definition that it is a life with balance between meeting one's basic human needs (food, shelter, warmth, etc.) and those higher order needs (love, status, respect, acquisition of knowledge, etc.). Someone able to put food on the table as well as have the ability to continue to learn and be fulfilled emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. If I were to suggest anything else, it would be to say that true success comes from making the lives of those around us better as well as our own. So, with this in mind, here are my top six keys to being successful:

1. Find a way that you are happy with to meet your basic needs.

2. Learn about what you need to prioritise in order to ensure your emotional, spiritual and intellectual well-being. Here are some questions to consider when establishing priorities:

- What makes you happy / miserable? angry / excited? safe / insecure? and how do you act accordingly (in ways that move you towards or away from a life that fulfills you)?

- What gives greater meaning to your life?

- Who else do you affect when you make decisions or act and how do you consider them?

- What new learning or practice would make a significant positive difference to your life?

3. Notice what interferes with your motivation levels. When are you most motivated? As a rule of thumb, notice people who inspire you (informal mentors) and those who "steal" your energy. What does your environment need to contain (light, nature, smells, colours, sounds, etc.)? What times of day, week or year are you most motivated? If you cannot answer these right now, keep a motivation diary for a few weeks and you should notice patterns emerging.

4. Notice what eats your time. Time spent daily determines what your life will become. If you are spending most of your time on twitter, facebook or surfing the web for example, then visualise your life continuing in this vein for the foreseeable future. This might just be enough to encourage you to reduce time spent on these devourers of precious time. Remember that time for relaxation recharges batteries so don't deny yourself these activities completely!

5. Resilience: how do you respond to criticism, rejection and set-backs? Successful people are those who do not give up; who like to keep going even if others are not validating this. Reading a quote recently from someone highly motivated (I can't remember exactly who) made me smile - "never give up, keep on doing what you're passionate about, and never, ever go away - not even when they want you to".

6. Ethics or values: it is important to know what matters most to you and to live in line with those that you personally consider most important. Feeling uncomfortable doing or considering doing something that someone else has asked you to do, or with the behaviour of someone else? It is likely that your core values or ethics are being stretched, are in conflict or are being broken. Core values or ethics include fundamentally important ideologies or principles such as honesty, respect, religion, status, loyalty, fidelity, monogamy, marriage, abortion, family, speaking one's mind, being considerate of others feelings, breaking conventions, entrepreneurship, being part of the community; your personal rights and wrongs of living. If you find yourself feeling stuck or in limbo, it can be worthwhile exploring whether there are values in conflict e.g. if one value is considering the feelings of others but another is to speak one's mind then doing one potentially contravenes the other; or spending time with one's family versus spending time on one's career; or those that are personally important versus those that are communally (culturally) important. Write down those that are most important to you, that you consider the important rules for living a fulfilling life and prioritise these.

Together these keys to success offer a personal path to follow in order to achieve fulfillment and success. They are most likely personal to you and much more to you than others, even those close to you. The better you know them the better chance you have of meeting and fulfilling your own dreams.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Being Happy and Successful in the Face of Change

Why can it be so hard for people to change? The neurologists notice that as we age, so the pathways in our brains become more entrenched and physically it is harder for us to create new ones (the "neural networks"). Children learn new languages and tasks much more readily than adults for this very reason. The psychologists notice that as changes happen, so some people become more distressed than others. In fact, some people actively thrive on the changes even during later life - just not the majority.

In a time when change is all around us and it's picking up speed (or is this just me getting older?) change becomes important in determining happiness (a fundamental right of all I believe). As a therapist and coach, sometimes working to reduce organisational stress, there are certain factors that one considers - both from the perspective of the systems of the company and also the needs and perceptions of the individual. It is not necessarily so that events are universally stressful (change for example) as much as the view that one takes of these events. Change for one person might mean losing one's position, taking a salary cut or being pushed unwillingly to learn new skills - whereas for someone else it might be viewed as an opportunity to get out of a dead-end, to experience new challenges and to have more fun. Whether your your cup is half full or half empty, for example, depends entirely upon the view you take of it.

The authors of a popular book, "Who moved my cheese?" point out the many unconsidered benefits to change, with the business fable of 2 mice and 2 little people representing the human worker and the cheese representing happiness and success. The book explores four typical reactions to change: feeling victimised and fearful; getting angry and blaming others; being opportunistic / entrepreneurial; and going along with change. A good question, asked as a challenge to one of the fearful little people is "what would you do differently if you weren't so afraid?". The main criticism of the book is that during times of organisational upheaval, management have been known to mass-distribute this book in an attempt to get everyone onboard quickly, without acknowledging the reality that the change will not be professionally advantageous to all. As the book rightly points out however, change happens, irrespective of whether we want it to or not, and those who can accept and adapt more quickly are likely to be happier and more successful. Getting stuck in fear, resentment, anger or denial do the opposite. Organisations need to note however that they are responsible for considering their impact on the stress-levels of their employees, with the UK's Health & Safety Executive (a governmental regulatory body) defining change as a key factor in contributing to most employee's stress levels increasing. In other words, if an organisation cannot demonstrate that in all areas they have conducted risk assessments and provided adequate support to those vulnerable (being aware also of who is more vulnerable than others), then they can be held accountable for employees being signed off work due to stress (unsurprisingly, the numbers right now are at an all-time high); potentially being sued for long-term disability support.

Psychologists have noticed something interesting that contributes to individual levels of stress differing so greatly and they call this one's perception of "Locus of Control". I use a brief assessment tool with clients not coping and we explore their own perception of control in a given situation. A low internal locus of control score (i.e. poor perception of one's ability to control the outcome of events) and a client can begin to understand why they are prone to feeling victimised or helpless (and so acting accordingly); and an excessively high one and a client can appreciate why they might be feeling angry or blaming. It can be a good starting point to helping someone get their life back on track after a change has happened, or while it is happening.

Of course change doesn't necessarily mean change at work. The same principles apply during any situation that involves loss and change, at home as well as at work. If you are finding the new year bringing in unwanted changes, then considering your ability to take control, where you can as well as where you cannot, and breaking down the change into smaller parts of good and bad (versus all bad), can help provide you with the necessary will to continue on your journey, feeling happier once more.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Leadership isn't everything

US President, Barack Obama, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Price for providing so much hope to those wishing to achieve peace - rather than having actually achieved it. With his position as President of a "world superpower", as well as his background spanning cultural as well as religious divides, he holds a unique position with considerable "soft" as well as "hard" power at his disposal. Is it really possible though that the right leadership can overcome all other problems?

The most realistic answer is that there is no rule. Sometimes, yes it is enough and sometimes, no matter how good a leader you are, unpredictable events can conspire against you. The sort of leadership required can also change according to the situation one is confronted with - and situations can change pretty quickly. Winston Churchill steered Britain through the perilous times during WWII yet failed as the leader to introduce the social policies needed afterwards. Leadership is rarely enough but it is the necessary catalyst. Without it, unhealthy limbo prevails until a leader with the right skills appears to change direction or make the changes necessary. There have been so many theories on the subject - often contradictory - but they all agree on this.

Leadership has become one of the most hotly debated, disputed and contradicted management topics going. However, during times of crisis, leadership can build collaboration or create deeper divides, depending upon its quality. For lasting change to truly happen, it needs to be a team effort, all the way down the line, and although good leadership is required for that to happen, it isn't nearly enough.

No matter whether you are in an organisation or a family, leadership is the key to it functioning well and being able to move with the times. Being able to adapt to the situation as well as meet the needs of those around you are important skills for any leader, boss or parent (and they can often be at odds with each other). Will Barack Obama fulfill the hopes of the Nobel Peace Prize? I hope so, but in my heart I know that he is just one man. We need a prevailing will that is bigger than any one man. Can he inspire this will? Well, yes, I do believe that he can (as said by the leader himself!).