Archive for October 2010

What Baseball Can Teach Us About Life

October 27, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

With all the excitement of the playoffs and the World Series (which, thanks to the success of the San Francisco Giants, we get to experience directly here in the Bay Area), I’ve been thinking about, watching, and appreciating the great game baseball a lot these past few weeks.  As someone who spent eighteen years of my life (from the age of seven until the age of twenty five) playing organized baseball and who has been a huge fan all my life, the game has taught me a great deal.

Whether you’ve played (or still play) baseball yourself, watch it as a fan, or even if you don’t particularly like it, understand it, care about it, or think it’s boring (which I know some people do), the game of baseball can teach us so many important things about life.

The fact that there are seemingly endless metaphors and universal life lessons that can be gleaned from baseball is one of the many things that make the game so interesting, exciting, and magical in my opinion.

Here are some key lessons from baseball I’ve been reminded of these past few weeks as I’ve been following the Giants with passion and enjoying the excitement of the post-season:

1) Appreciate the moment. It’s so easy in life to take things for granted, focus too much on the outcome, and worry about our own agenda or performance – all things I did for much of my own baseball career.  Doing this, as we’ve all learned the hard way, causes us to miss the magic of the moment.  As I’ve continued to remind the folks within the San Francisco Giants organization whom I’ve had the honor of working with as a client this year, the most important thing to do in the midst of the excitement, intensity, and pressure of competition – whether it’s in baseball or in life – is to enjoy and be grateful for the experience right now.  As baseball teaches us, if we hold our breath and wait for it “all to work out,” if often doesn’t and we lose opportunity to appreciate what’s happening, while it’s happening, which is the only way we can authentically enjoy anything in life.

2) Take it one step at a time. As most baseball coaches preach to their players – “Take things one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time, and one game at a time.”  While these may be some of the oldest baseball cliches in the book, they’re cliches for a reason – they’re true, and not just for baseball.  The better you are at letting go of what just happened, not worrying about what’s coming up, and staying in each moment of your experience as it happens – the more likely you are to enjoy yourself and perform at your best.  You never know how things are going to unfold and you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself.  According to all of the “experts,” the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to be playing in the World Series, not the Giants and the Texas Rangers.

3) Focus on what you can control. In baseball, work, and life, there are so many things we can’t control (i.e. what other people do, external factors, and ultimately the results), but we always have control over our attitude and our effort.  Remembering what you can and can’t control, and putting your attention on your attitude and effort are key elements in staying focused and positive, and in reducing stress and negativity.  In baseball, if you waste your time getting upset about the calls by the umpire, the play of the other guys on your team, the decisions your manager makes, the weather conditions, what the fans and media have to say, and more, you’ll make yourself crazy and render yourself ineffective in the game.  The same is true in life – we spend and waste so much energy on stuff we have no control over.  When we shift our focus to what we can control (our attitude and effort), we’re empowered.

4) Failure is part of the game. There is so much failure in baseball, even when you’re a really good player or team.  Cody Ross, an outfielder for the Giants, won the Most Valuable Player award of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies last week.  He had a great series and hit .350, which is a fantastic batting average.  However, this means he got out (i.e. failed) 65% of the time.  Even when you’re considered the “best,” which he was for that series, you still have to deal with a lot of failure in baseball.  The two teams in the World Series this year, the Giants and the Rangers, each lost 70 and 72 games respectively during the regular season.  That’s a lot of failure…and, they’re really good!  This is also true in life.  The question isn’t whether or not we’ll fail; it’s how we’ll deal with it when it happens that’s most important.  Remembering that failure is an essential part of the game of life can help us let go of unnecessary fear, worry, and self judgment.

5) Swing hard, just in case you hit it. Our fear of failure and embarrassment often holds us back from really going for it.  There were many times in my baseball career that I played tentatively, so as not to fail or lose. However, the best way to approach the game, as well as life itself, is with passion. Juan Uribe, the Giants third baseman, hit the game winning home run in Game 6 of last week’s National League Championship Series (sending the Giants to the World Series).  He’s a guy who swings about as hard as anyone in baseball.  Sometimes he misses and can look bad at the plate.  However, when he hits it, as he did last weekend, he has the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark and win the game in heroic fashion.  Swinging hard in life, just in case we hit it, is a great way to approach many of the important things we do.  Imagine what your life and career would look like it you weren’t afraid to fail or embarrass yourself?

6) Don’t be a front-runner. During the post-season, there are lots of “front-runners,” (i.e. fans, media, and others jumping on the “band wagon” when a team starts winning games and doing well). We live in a culture that loves winners and makes fun of losers. While this makes sense in baseball and sports, it can be quite damaging in business, relationships, and life. Sadly, we’re often “front-runners” with ourselves – thinking that we’re only as good as our performance or liking ourselves better based on external factors (money, accomplishments, weight, status, etc.). The most successful baseball players I’ve ever seen or known and the most fulfilled people I’ve ever been around, don’t get too caught up in their own “hype” when they’re doing well and don’t get too stuck in their own “black hole” when they’re in a slump. Keeping it real with yourself and others and not being a front-runner is critically important to creating authentic success and fulfillment in life.

7) It ain’t over ’til it’s over. As the great and somewhat quirky hall-of-fame catcher from the New York Yankees Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s ain’t over ’til it’s over.” This is, of course, true in baseball and in life. So often individuals and teams get counted out – which was true for both of the teams playing in this year’s World Series, as well as many of the individual players on both squads, especially the Giants. However, baseball is a game of many second chances and opportunities for redemption – just ask Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. His story of recover from addiction is inspiring and a great example of perseverance. We are confronted on a daily basis in life with opportunities to give up, give in, and quit. Remembering that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” is important for us in those low moments when we feel like throwing in the towel. Don’t give up – you never know what’s going to happen; as we’re continually reminded about through the great game of baseball and the great experience of life.

Whether you love baseball like I do, get into it from time to time (especially at this time of year), or think it’s a ridiculous and boring game – I hope you’re able to watch the World Series over this next week and not only appreciate it for the exciting sporting event that it is, but also look more deeply into the beautiful way it can teach us so much about ourselves and how to live life to its fullest.

What have you learned from baseball (or any other sport or activity) that you can use in life to be more successful and fulfilled? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Why is This Happening FOR Me?

October 20, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Do you ever ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening to me?”  Most of us do, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to or we’re dealing with something that’s difficult or painful.

A few years ago I was talking to my friend Brian about this and he said, “If you change the word ‘to’ to the word ‘for’ in that question, it can change your life.”  When Brian said this, it really resonated with me and I never forgot it.

Instead of asking ourselves, “Why is this happening TO me?” we could instead ask, “Why is this happening FOR me?”  Wow – there’s a world of difference in those two questions.  The first one leads us down a path of victimhood, martyrdom, or feeling as though there’s something wrong with us.  The second one takes us in a direction of deeper growth, awareness, appreciation, responsibility, and healing.

Sadly, it often seems easier and is definitely more encouraged by the world around us to choose “Door #1” (victimhood), than it is to choose “Door #2” (growth and responsibility).

Why is this?  We live in a culture that celebrates and reinforces victimhood.  And while there are clearly people in our world who are victimized by the “wrongs” of society and others (and some of us have been victimized by people and situations in our own lives personally), the majority of the time you and I act, talk, and feel like “victims,” we’re not – it’s just a habitual way of thinking and being that we’re used to.

Most of us learned how to be victims at a very young age and had (and continue to have) lots of examples around us. In fact, victimhood is something we often used as a survival technique as children and adolescents. Although it doesn’t really feel good – feeling sorry for ourselves is actually a way to distance ourselves from deep and painful emotions, like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear, anger, and despair. Because we don’t have the emotional capacity as kids or teens to fully experience and express our emotions in a healing and liberating way, we turn to victimhood and it helps us survive.

In our lives as adults, however, playing the victim not only acts as a “smokescreen” (keeping us from taking responsibility and feeling our real emotions), it also causes a great deal of harm in relationships, at work, with our health, and much more.

Asking ourselves why something is happening “for” us instead of “to” us, doesn’t mean we have to like what’s happening, necessarily.  It also isn’t about blaming ourselves for “screwing things up.”  This is about consciously choosing to look for the “gold,” see the lesson, and take advantage of the situations and circumstances that show up in our lives as the opportunities for growth that they truly are.

While feeling like a victim is normal, common, and even “natural” for us as human beings, it never leads us to greater power, joy, or happiness.  The more willing we are to take responsibility for what shows up in our lives and to look for what we can learn from all that we experience, the more likely we are to heal, change, and transform in the positive way that we truly want.

Here are a few things you can think about and do to let go of victimhood and expand your capacity for growth and learning:

1) Notice when and where you feel like a victim. Pick a specific area of your life, or a specific situation or relationship, where you currently feel that “it’s not fair,” or “it shouldn’t be this way,” or you find yourself asking, “why is this happening to me?”  While you may have more than one area or example of this in your life right now, it works best to focus on one area at a time.  Notice what you think and say about this situation – to yourself and others.  Most important, tap into how you’re truly feeling about it.  Remember, victimhood is always a smokescreen – keeping us away from our authentic and vulnerable feelings.  When you’re able to acknowledge and ultimately experience and express how you really feel, things can start to shift.

2) Ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening FOR me?” Related to this specific situation, asking yourself this question is something that can put you in a different and healthier inquiry about what’s really going on.  Again, you don’t have to like what’s happening, but you can appreciate it (which means recognize the value of it).  What are you learning?  What is it forcing you to deal with, let go of, heal, or confront in your life?   Another good question to ask yourself along these same lines is, “What good is here that I’m currently not seeing?”  The more willing you are to look deeply at and learn from this situation, and less energy you put into being at the mercy of it, the more power you’ll have in dealing with it and growing in the process.

3) Talk to others authentically. While we often “commiserate” our victimhood with other people, it’s a better idea to share how we authentically feel (in a vulnerable way) and to engage in an inquiry with people we trust about why this situation may be happening FOR us.  Other people are able to see and hear things we don’t. Leaning on the people in your life, talking to them in a real way, and asking for their support and feedback can help you move through the difficulty, find the gold, and deepen your learning – especially when you’re dealing with something challenging or painful like this. The less we share our issues with others looking for them to agree with our “story of woe,” and the more we share what we’re going through with a desire for support and empowerment; the more likely we are to heal, grow, and evolve.

Letting go of victimhood is not the easiest thing for us to do – most of us have years and years of experience.  However, with compassion, consciousness, and a willingness to ask ourselves why things are happening for us (and not to us), we can liberate ourselves from victimhood in a beautiful and powerful way!

Where in your life do you feel like a victim?  How can shifting your perspective make a difference? What can you learn from any of the current challenges you’re facing?  Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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The Importance of Empathy

October 13, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Empathy is one of the most important aspects of creating harmonious relationships, reducing stress, and enhancing emotional awareness – yet it can be tricky at times. I consider myself to be quite empathetic, but notice that with certain people (especially those I don’t like or agree with and also with myself at times) and in particular situations, my natural ability and desire to empathize can be diminished or almost non-existent.

I also notice that when I feel empathy for others and for myself, I feel a sense of peace, connection, and perspective that I like. And, when there is an absence of empathy in a particular relationship, situation, or in how I’m relating to myself, I often experience stress, disconnection, and negativity. Can you relate?

What is Empathy?

Empathy is not sympathy. When we’re sympathetic, we often pity someone else, but maintain our distance (physically, mentally, and emotionally) from their feelings or experience. Empathy is more a sense that we can truly understand, relate to, or imagine the depth of another person’s emotional state or situation. It implies feeling with a person, rather than feeling sorry for a person. And in some cases that “person” is actually us.

Empathy is a translation of the German term Einfühlung, meaning “to feel as one with.” It implies sharing the load, or “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes,” in order to understand that person’s perspective.

What Stops Us From Empathizing?

There are a number of things that get in the way of us utilizing and experiencing the power of empathy. Three of the main ones, which are all interrelated, are as follows:

– Feeling Threatened – When we feel threatened by another person or a particular situation, it’s often hard to empathize. This makes perfect sense from a survival standpoint (i.e. if someone is trying to hurt us, we want to protect ourselves, rather than have compassion and understanding about where they’re coming from). However, we often feel “threatened” based on our own fears, projections, and past experiences – not by what is actually happening in the moment or in a particular relationship or situation. Whether the threat is “real” or “imagined,” when we feel threatened in any way, it often shuts down our ability to experience empathy.

– Being Judgmental – Judgments are a part of life, we all must make lots of judgments and decisions on a daily basis (what to wear, what to eat, where to sit, what to watch/listen to/read, what to say, and on and on). Making value judgments (the relative placement of our discernment) is essential to living a healthy life. However, being judgmental is a totally different game. When we’re judgmental, we decide that we’re “right” and someone else is “wrong.” Doing this hurts us and others, cuts us off from those around us, and doesn’t allow us to see alternative options and possibilities. We live in a culture that is obsessed with and passionate about being judgmental. And many of us, myself included, are highly trained in this destructive and damaging “art.” When we’re being judgmental about another person, group of people, or situation, we significantly diminish our capacity to be empathetic.

– Fear – The root of all this is our fear. Feeling threatened is all about fear. Being judgmental is all about fear. And, not feeling, experiencing, or expressing empathy is also all about fear. There’s nothing inherently wrong with fear, it’s a natural human emotion – which, in fact, has many positive aspects to it, if we’re willing to admit it, own it, express it, and move through it. Fear saves our lives and keeps us out of trouble all the time. However, the issue with fear is our denial of it, our secret obsession with it, and our lack of responsibility about it. We deem things, people, or situations to be “scary,” when in truth there is nothing in life that is inherently “scary.” There are lots of things, people, and situations that cause fear in us – however, we make it about “them” instead of owning that the fear comes from within us. When we allow ourselves to be motivated by fear – which often leads to us defending ourselves against “threats,” be judgmental, and more – it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to access the power of empathy.

Where in your life and relationships can you see that feeling threatened, being judgmental, and experiencing fear stop you from being empathetic? The more willing you are to look at this, acknowledge it, own it, and take responsibility for it (with compassion for yourself), the more able you’ll be to expand your capacity for empathy.

How to Become More Empathetic

There are many things we can do and practice to increase our ability to feel, experience, and express empathy for others, situations, and ourselves. Becoming more empathetic is one of the best ways we can enhance our relationships, reduce our stress level, and feel good about ourselves and our lives in an authentic way.

Here are a few things you can do and think about to become more empathetic:

1) Be Real About How You Feel – When we’re willing to get real about how we truly feel and have the courage to be vulnerable about it with ourselves and others, we can so often liberate ourselves from the negativity, projections, and judgments that mask what’s really going on. When we’re in a conflict with another person or dealing with someone or something that’s challenging for us, being able to admit, own, and express our fear, insecurity, sadness, anger, jealousy, or whatever other “negative” emotions we are experiencing, is one of the best ways for us to move past our defensiveness and authentically address the deeper issues of the situation. Doing this allows us to access empathy for ourselves, the other person or people involved, and even the circumstances of the conflict or challenge itself.

2) Imagine What It’s Like For Them – While it can sometimes be difficult for us to “understand” another person’s perspective or situation (because we may not agree with them, haven’t been through what they’ve been through, or don’t really want to see it through their eyes), being able to imagine what it must be like for them is an essential aspect of empathy. This is not about condoning inappropriate behavior or justifying other people’s actions, however I do believe deep in my heart that no one does or says things that are hurtful to us if they aren’t already feeling a real sense of pain themselves and/or haven’t been hurt in many ways in their own life. Whatever the situation is, the more willing we are to imagine what it’s like for them, the more compassion, understanding, and empathy we’ll be able to experience.

3) Forgive Yourself and Others – Forgiveness is one of the most important things we can do in life to heal ourselves, let go of negativity, and live a life of peace and fulfillment. Forgiveness has to first start with us. I believe that all judgment is self judgment. When we forgive ourselves, we create the conditions and perspective to forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the many important aspects of life that is often easier said than done. It is something we need to learn about and practice all the time. Sadly, we aren’t often taught how to forgive, encouraged to do it in genuine way, and didn’t, in most cases, grow up with very good models or examples of how to forgive. One of the best books you can read on this subject is called Forgive For Good, written by my friend and mentor Dr. Fred Luskin, one of the world’s leading experts and teachers about the power of forgiveness. This book gives you practical and tangible techniques you can use to forgive anyone and anything. The more willing we are to forgive ourselves and others (and continue to practice this in an on-going way), the more able we’ll be to empathize authentically.

How empathetic are you? What can you do to enhance your capacity for empathy? How would an increased ability to empathize for others (and yourself) impact your life and relationships? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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