Being Our Best Self. Part 2!

When we think of the immensity of space we recognise that finite minds will always struggle to understand the infinite. Space goes on and on with no beginning and no end. That is hard to fathom. However, it has been proved that whilst space is infinite is size, it is also continually expanding. Get your head around that! In spite of the grandeur of it all, the universe continues to get bigger and continues to grow. As I compare this to the true potential that lies within each of us I recognise that to measure our full potential is to measure something that is ever growing. Our potential is ever expanding.

As a jazz musician in my youth I expanded my ability to play music through practice, hard work and great enthusiasm. My ability to play my instrument five years after I first picked it up was much greater than at the beginning. So, how would I measure my full potential as a musician as an example, if my potential is ever changing, improving and growing? Secondly, the lessons I learned practicing music and growing in my love for it have expanded other areas of my life and increased my potential in other things. So, how do you measure that? Everything seems to weave together into an intricate connected web of ever expanding potential.

It seems critical to me that recognising our full potential and reaching upwards towards it requires two very important things:
1. An eye of faith. My definition of an eye of faith is – our ability to see with our minds eye things that have not yet come to pass, but will do because of our belief in it, our commitment to it and because it is true. Truth is an important part of this formula because no matter how sincere a belief it does not establish a correct principle. So we need to believe in something, commit to it totally and ensure that this course of action we are pursuing is inline with correct principles. I have learned that my commitment is often proportionate to my belief. How do I build my belief if I find it lacking? Get more committed! How do I build my commitment? Do something now! Act with immediacy. I have also learned that understanding that our belief and commitment must be centred in correct principles builds confidence in the journey versus doubt. How do we know if something is true? Perhaps we can look for evidence. For example: “I believe that I can build my own house because I have the blueprints and the contacts of professional people who have the skills to create it with me. I can see it. I know what it takes and I want it! I am confident that I will succeed because I have committed the finances required to build it. I know that the end result will look like the blueprint because I have seen many others do the same thing.”

2. I can measure the rate of my improvement and chart my progress. This is critically important because it ensures we are on track. Have you ever flown in a plane and watched the course being charted in one of the passenger viewing screens in front of you? Notice how often it can zig zag or seem off course? Due to all of the different influences on the plane when it travels it is continually getting off course and continually getting back on course. Technical equipment and dedicated staff ensure that progress is monitored in order to arrive at the right destination on time. As we pursue improvement in our lives we must dedicate time and resources to ensuring we are staying on course! At school we have exams, assignments and reports. In work we have appraisals, budget reviews, deadlines etc. What do you have to help you track your improvement and growth in Nikken?

I would like to encourage everyone to take time out to develop their eye of faith. We can do this by reading good books, attending events and seminars and by associating with inspiring people. I would also like to encourage everyone to establish a measurement how you progress towards achieving your goals. As we apply this pattern in our lives repeatedly, we can discover the truth that our potential is like the universe – ever expanding and always growing.

We all have greatness within us and we tap into it and expand it by keeping our eye on the prize and continually pressing forward with an eye of faith!

Being our Best Self! Part One.

Robert Louis Stevenson once said “To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life”. For many people the first part of his statement “to be what we are” is deceptively easy. I say deceptively because many of us do not know who we really are. Note that Stevenson did NOT say “be what you think you are”. Who we are and who we think we are often two very different things. Additionally, to be what we are capable of becoming is also a challenge as many of us can hardly glimpse  even a small spec of what our true potential looks like. So I ask you these two life defining questions: First, how do we discover our true worth? And second, how do we discover our full potential? These two questions are difficult to address in a blog that of necessity needs to be brief in size, so I will break this subject down into two separate blogs and answer each question separately.

Discovering our true worth:
In the 1940’s a company in America introduced to our shops Ready Made Cake Mix. All you had to do was add water, mix and put in it in the oven. Brilliant? Actually no! It turned out that first time round people didn’t like the taste. But the great minds behind this new product believed that it did taste great and that their customers were telling them something else. So, they took out of their ingredients the milk and the eggs and then told their customers “just add milk, eggs and water, then mix and put in the oven.” It turned out to be a huge success. Yet – it tasted the same! The end result had exactly the same ingredients. Why did they like it more? Because customers could now say “they made the cake”. They invested in it. The great minds behind this new product understood that the more we sacrifice for something the more we value it. In fact, since then science has proved this over and over. However, in terms of “self” it can sometimes be hard to see what sacrifices have been made for us or by us. There is a simple attribute that helps us to see these sacrifices that make us incredibly valuable and of immeasurable worth. It is the attribute of gratitude.

In 1944 Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were arrested for hiding Jews in their home in the Netherlands. For their crime they were taken to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. As you might imagine, their experience in such a prison was horrific and continually life threatening. On one occasion Betsie was praying and expressing thanks for everything. Included in her prayer was “thank you for the fleas!” Her sister Corrie was astounded by such comments and afterwards argued such a point was ridiculous. Betsie explained that we should be thankful for everything, not just the pleasant things. Under the circumstances you can only imagine what Betsie was saying would be most difficult to accept. Her point proved to be true however, when the two sisters later discovered that guards had refused to enter their barracks because they were flea infested. The distance this created between the prisoners and the guards proved to be life saving and significantly improved their quality of life whilst in the camp. Turns out “thank you for the fleas” made sense!

This point reminds me of a poem I heard just this past weekend by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr. called ‘The Oak Tree.’

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew.

In my last blog I wrote paradoxically that pain was an important ingredient for our happiness. Today my message is that total gratitude reveals our individual worth. But of total necessity, gratitude must include appreciation for the hard stuff. If I could put this in a mathematical formula it would look like this:

Sacrifice* + Total Gratitude = Value

*Sacrifice is not simply what others do for you, but also what you are called to endure or pass through for yourself or others.

In conclusion to this discussion, we learn that when we are truly grateful, the feelings induced by such positive emotion lead us to act better, to become more, to lift others, to love more. This creates a virtuous circle of ever increasing joy where value is added to ourselves, others and the world. Herein lies the secret: Gratitude therefore is not just a revealer of value – it is a multiplier!

The Paradox of Happiness

When my twelve year old son Ethan was three years old he developed a kidney condition called Nephrotic Syndrome. It meant his kidneys leaked large amounts of protein from the blood into the urine. One of the consequences of this was oedema or excessive swelling. If it wasn’t managed it had the potential to be life threatening. Needless to say, this time in our lives was one of great concern for our little boy. I remember on one particular hospital visit (which was a regular occurrence for us at the time) Ethan needed to be connected to a drip for a prolonged hospital stay and this required putting a needle into his hand. Frustratingly, the doctors and nurses were struggling to get the needle in and poor little Ethan was crying with pain. The doctor asked me as his Dad to hold him down and keep him still so that they could get the needle into his hand. As I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed tightly the doctor made another attempt to get the needle in. Ethan struggled to get free and cried out to me desperately saying “Daddy, they are hurting me! Why aren’t you stopping them?” It broke my heart to hear him crying out for help like that. It killed me to hold him still when he so desperately wanted to break free. It was a day I will never forget. I am pleased to say – the doctors and nurses saved his life and after three years of daily attention he recovered and he is now a healthy young man.

Why did I not answer my three year olds cry for help as he wished? Especially when I could. Because I knew that a little bit of pain now, would inoculate him against a lot of pain later. I knew that some suffering today would bring increased happiness in our future tomorrows. There is an old proverb which says “Weeping may endure for a moment, but joy cometh in the morning”. This is relevant for understanding happiness because too often when things get hard people quit. They throw in the towel and give up. Yet this is the very time when we need to stand strong and not bend. Is it hard to do? Of course. But hard doesn’t mean wrong. I have learned that struggling for a good cause instead of buckling breeds resilience in my character. I have learned that persistence in noble purpose breeds patience. Hard work breeds satisfaction and timely, loving reproof breeds improvement. Nothing great is achieved without toil and this is true of happiness. Great happiness can never be found without there being suffering on the journey to achieve it.

I know that in life we will all get acquainted with trials and difficulty. They say that “time heals all wounds” but there is also truth in the statement that “time wounds all heals” (heal as in the back of your foot!). In our pursuit of happiness, we must not believe that all pain is bad. Nor should we try to turn away from it when it confronts us. Whilst it is not what we want to feel, some pain is necessary for growth and development.

I have learned that the continued struggle for a noble goal increases our desire for its achievement. Many people want good things, but they don’t want them bad enough. They are not prepared to struggle, to sacrifice, to suffer some inconvenience for what they seek. Consequently, they don’t achieve success and the excuses come that “it doesn’t work” or “it’s too hard” or “I didn’t want it anyway!” In such moments as these, people surrender themselves to the warm waters of mediocrity. Such waters are well occupied and people gain false assurance that the large numbers they have surrounded themselves with confirm their choice is right. How wrong they are! To be great; to be our best, we do not swim downstream with the crowd. We go the other way! We fight and we strive. We get knocked down and we get back up. We persist and we carry on! And when we do – we enjoy what others don’t – Victory! And this offers greater happiness and real balance in a way that those in warm water can never imagine and will never appreciate.

So my invitation today is – as you strive for balance and greater happiness, prepare for and be willing to accept a degree of pain in your journey. Not all pain is bad and true greatness requires us to shoulder our portion of it. Remember, our willingness to embrace pain is paradoxically a core ingredient in our happiness and when accepted will lead to the achievement of our full potential.

Chocolate Cake and Rare Diamonds

I was teaching a class this past weekend and thought I would treat my students to a beautiful chocolate cake. It had chocolate frosting with chocolate shavings on top. A real chocolate lovers experience. I asked my class who would like a slice of this delicious, mouth watering cake. A number of hands went up pretty quickly. I turned to the first person to put their hand up, took the first piece and squeezed it in my hand, making sure that the frosting oozed between my fingers. I dumped the mashed up piece of cake in their plate and then wiped my fingers clean on the side of their dish. I then handed them their treat. They looked at me with a most upset look on their face. I then turned to the rest of the class and asked “who else would like a piece of this chocolate cake?” Not surprisingly, no one wanted any. I asked those that had their hand up before why they suddenly changed their minds. I explained “it tastes the same, it has the same nutritional content, so why are you not interested in the cake now?” The answer got right to the point I was striving to make “I guess its just the way you presented it!” they declared.

I discovered a different example in a jewellers once. Whilst the jeweller had many precious stones and jewellery on display in his store there seemed to be one that stood out amongst all others as most precious. It was centre stage in the store window, elevated above the others and encased within an exclusive glass display. It was rested upon black velvet to contrast the beautiful bright shining colours that this diamond reflected in the light. The lights were positioned to bring out the most beautiful colours this diamond would display and it sparkled proudly for all to gaze upon and adore. How this diamond was presented told a story in itself. It said – “This diamond is worth something. It is different to all the others you will see.” The jeweller went to great lengths to show it off in its best light and to help people appreciate this rare stone’s beauty.

I know that how we present something – chocolate cake, diamonds, Nikken, ourselves – influences significantly how people perceive it. If I love and respect myself for example, I will be inclined to present myself with more dignity and confidence. If I love and value Nikken, I will present it with power and purpose. If I love the people I am working with I will present their opportunities in the most attractive way possible to help them make the best decisions.

I encourage each of us to present Nikken like that beautiful rare diamond – make it stand out from the crowd! Let people see that it is different to anything else. It shines brighter, it is worth more, it is desirable beyond description. And it is ours!

How Love Can Alter Human Lives and Change Human Nature

In 1965 a story was published that teaches a beautiful and powerful lesson. It is the story of a paroled convict. A friend of Prison Warden Kenyon J. Scudder happened to be sitting in a railroad coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally the man revealed that he was a paroled convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame to his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel and too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.

To make it easy for them, however, he had written them to put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him, they were to put a white ribbon in the big apple tree which stood near the tracks. If they didn’t want him to return, they were to do nothing, and he would remain on the train as it travelled west.

As the train neared his home town, the suspense became so great he couldn’t bear to look out of his window. He exclaimed, “In just five minutes the engineer will sound the whistle, indicating our approach to the long bend which opens into the valley I know as home. Will you watch for the apple tree at the side of the track?” His companion changed places with him and said he would. The minutes seemed like hours, but then there came the shrill sound of the train whistle. The young man asked, “Can you see the tree? Is there a white ribbon?”

Came the reply: “I see the tree. I see not one white ribbon, but many. There must be a white ribbon on every branch. Son, someone surely does love you.”

Warden Scudder’s friend said afterwards that he felt like he had witnessed a miracle that day. The love and forgiveness extended by the convict’s family gave him the power to change. I believe that such a generous act of kindness cannot help but change the giver of such a gift as well.

There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own
(Edwin Markham)

We cannot do good to others without good coming back into our own lives. It is a principle and a law as fixed and unchanging as the law of gravity. As we do good to other people and raise them up, we in turn are lifted to higher planes. We become more as we help others to become more.

Let me leave you with one last story to illustrate the great power for good loving others can have. It comes from the classic stage show “My Fair Lady.” Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl, spoke to one for whom she cared and who later was to lift her from such mediocre status: “You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.” (Adapted from Pygmalion, in The Complete Plays of Bernard Shaw, p. 260.)
As we look around us, I invite us all to see people in the light of their true and full potential and to treat them as such. I know that such kindness and strength of character has the power to change their lives – and it has the power to change ours.

Time to Think Differently!

I was asked in a class recently to hold a heavy book in my hands, with my arms outstretched whilst I talked with the group about a particular subject. The subject is irrelevant to this blog, but it also became irrelevant to the class I was in too. Why, because everyone was distracted with what I was holding in my hands and the effort required to keep my arms out straight. What I was saying become secondary to what I was doing – for me AND for everyone around me.

The purpose of that exercise was to teach an important lesson. Get rid of the distractions in your life! They dilute your ability to realise your purpose! This is easier said than done, but the point is significant.

I bought a nice new car a few years back that got deliberately scratched by someone walking past it when it was parked. When I would show people my car (all brand new and lovely and clean) the first thing they would say is “you have a scratch there,” and they would then point to the offending panel.

Human nature is to see what is wrong first before seeing what is right. It is to focus on what is distracting versus what is important. It is to see the reasons why not before we see the reasons why.

If we want to be successful in this business we need to learn to think counter-intuitively. Focus on the positive, see the good, ignore the distractions, believe when others don’t, do what others wont and do it over and over again! I heard a great story of a Prison Warden that was dedicated to the reformation of his inmates. He built a robust programme, invested heavily in it and dedicated great time to it. A sceptic came to him one day and said to him “Don’t you know that leopards can’t change their spots?” He responded “True. Leopards can’t change their spots. But I don’t work with leopards. I work with people. And I see people change every day!”

Regardless of what we have believed in the past, regardless of how we have thought before, we can change our future by changing the way we think about it! Of course, change does not come by simply thinking. So let me leave you with one last suggestion:

Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a destiny

The journey to change begins in our mind but finishes with out feet! Let’s make this new month of May – a month of mighty change.

Three Steps to Building Belief in a Struggling Team Member

Do you have a member of your team that you know has great potential but they have a negative belief or a fear that prevents them from achieving more? Because of this barrier you may notice that they keep coming to meetings but you don’t see them recruiting all that much. Here are three simple steps to help someone like this to move forward successfully.

To begin the process of change with someone, we need to identify if they genuinely are interested in changing. A simple question often works and it goes something like this “If I could show you a way that you could____________, would you be interested?” The gap of course needs to be filled in with the antidote to their concern. For example, if they lack confidence in talking to others you could say – “If I could show you a way that you could develop more confidence and build a successful business, would you be interested?” Perhaps you have someone that has been in the business for a while and not achieved much and therefore their concern is – it’s too much work for too little return. Then you could put the question this way – “If I could show you a way that you could have more results and therefore more income, would you be interested?” The goal here is to find out their willingness to overcome their concerns. Once you have established that they are willing you can move onto the next step.

Often, we try to convince someone to change their beliefs simply by telling them ours – repeatedly like they didn’t hear it properly the first time. This rarely works. So if our words have little imapct, then what changes beliefs? The answer is – personal experience. So, to put this into practice, if someone struggles to recruit people or to even try because of fears, negative beliefs or other obstacles then the solution is that you go out with them and set appointments together, or do ABCs together and you help them to recruit and thus give them some positive experiences. If this activity turns them into a committed business builder then it is time well spent.

When we help others to have positive experiences by working with them – we build their beliefs and boost their confidence. Positive experience changes conviction more than anything else. This business is a people business and the more you work with your team and help them to have positive experiences in the key income generating activities the more you will find you have a team that is united, working and prosperous.

What is the third step? It is a repeat of the second until they make progress in their beliefs. You can see if they are progressing in their beliefs by observing their actions. Our actions are an outward manifestation of our inner beliefs. This step requires wisdom, patience and some tough love. When to step forward and try again versus when to step back and move on to someone else who needs your help is a judgement call that takes practice.

In summary we have identified the following three things:
1. Ask questions that will identify their willingness to try to change.
2. Give them a positive experience by working with them.
3. Repeat step two a few times to see their belief grow and develop into personal activity.

I guess there is actually a fourth step! Have a meet in the middle rule. If they want you to help them recruit others for example, you give them your time but have them fill it with appointments. Then you can show them how to recruit but you are working together with mutual sacrifice and commitment. You move, I move is my rule. That helps you develop the wisdom to know when to keep trying and when to move to someone else.