Archive for July 2009

The Gifts of Judgment

July 27, 2009

How often do you judge others?

If you’re anything like me and so many of the people I know, probably all the time. Most of us are incredibly judgmental, whether or not we admit it. I’ve been quite aware of my own judgmental tendency for much of my life. While it does seem to ebb and flow based on my own level of confidence, inner peace, and fulfillment and I continue to work on being less judgmental, in the past few weeks I’ve been confronted by how pervasive it is in my relationships and my life.

While this has been quite humbling, it has also been a wonderful opportunity for growth and awareness. There are lots of gifts within our judgments, if we’re willing to do the internal work necessary, take responsibility, and own our projections. Being judgmental can cause a great deal of pain, stress, and conflict in our lives and relationships, but if we’re conscious about it we can actually use our judgments as access to deeper connection with others and personal transformation within ourselves.

It’s important that we remember the difference between having value judgments and being judgmental. Value judgments are the relative placement of our discernment – based on our values and what’s truly important to us. We make value judgments all day long – what to eat, where to go, whom to talk to, what to do, and more. While we want to stay open to change, differences, and possibility – making value judgments is essential to life, health, growth, our own power, and more.

Being judgmental, on the other hand, has to do with us thinking that our opinions and values are “right” and judging others as “bad” or “wrong.” This may sound like semantics, but it’s not – it is a whole different paradigm. Being judgmental has to do with us arrogantly thinking that we’re better than others. The question is not whether being judgmental is good or bad, the deeper issue is that when we judge others like this we hurt them and ourselves in the process.

So why do we do it? There are several reasons we judge others:

– Competitiveness – We compete with others and want to win (or at least not let them win). When we don’t win (or we feel inferior or jealous of others), we tend to judge them, make them wrong, or try to find fault in them. In other words, we try to bring them down to our level so we can feel better about ourselves.

– Projection – We project our “stuff” onto other people. As author Debbie Ford says, “Whatever you can’t own, owns you.” In other words, we have a hard time with aspects and qualities in other people that we have not accepted within ourselves. For example, if we have not accepted our own arrogance, we will notice lots of arrogant people around us and have a very hard time with them (and with the quality of arrogance in general).

– Life is a mirror – Similar to projection, everything we see, experience, and notice about other people (and life) is a mirror back to us – the light and the dark. We erroneously think it’s about “them” and miss the gift of awareness it is for us. We will always bump up against stuff in others and in life that we need to deal with in ourselves – but it’s often much easier to judge than it is to deal.

Given that we all judge others, for these and other reasons, what are some of the gifts we can receive from our judgments, in addition to or instead of the pain and damage they can cause? Here are a few:

1) Self awareness – We learn so much from our judgments – places within ourselves we can love, accept, and make peace with. Our judgments can shine light on aspects within our own life where we can grow, expand, and let go…and can give us access to forgiveness and authentic confidence.

2) Expanded compassion – When we’re being judgmental, it can remind us about the importance of compassion – for ourselves and others. The things we judge in others (which are always things we judge in ourselves consciously or unconsciously) are simply things we don’t have much compassion for. We can use our judgments as opportunities to expand our capacity for compassion, one of the most powerful emotions we can express and experience in life.

3) Intimacy – Dealing with our judgments in a vulnerable, honest, and responsible way can actually bring us closer to the people in our life and create deeper intimacy. When we’re willing to confront our judgments (as well as other aspects of our shadow), we’re able to liberate ourselves from much of what holds us back from being intimate, vulnerable, and close with the people around us. It takes courage and commitment, but when we’re willing and able to engage at this level of authenticity with others, our relationships can transform in a wonderful way.

There’s nothing wrong with us for being judgmental, it’s a fundamental aspect of being human. And, while judgments can and do cause a great deal of difficulty and pain in our lives and relationships, especially if we stay unconscious about them, as we wake up and take responsibility for them, we can use our own judgmental tendency to actually create the kind of life and the kinds of relationships we truly want. There are deep gifts in our judgments, if we’re willing to do the work necessary and confront them and ourselves with ruthless compassion and vulnerable truth.

Whom do you judge? What’s underneath your judgment? What are some of the gifts of this? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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Life is Not a Competition

July 20, 2009

How often do you find yourself getting jealous of other people?

For much of my life I’ve been aware of my own tendency to compare, compete, and be jealous of others (thinking that I don’t measure up). As a kid, a teenager, and a young adult, this was a big issue for me and also seemed to make sense, especially as someone who was involved in competitive baseball. Since my pro baseball career ended when I was twenty five and because I’ve done quite a bit of personal growth work over the past fifteen years, I erroneously believed that I’d evolved past spending or wasting much of my time and energy being jealous of others.

However, this past week has been a humbling (yet liberating) reminder of how jealous and competitive I can still be. Through a series of intense conversations with a few of my good friends, I realized that much of the conflict and judgment that shows up in my relationships with them (and others) has to do with me being overly competitive with them, although I’m not usually aware of it or honest about it. I get really jealous, but often pretend that I don’t. Can you relate?

We live in a very competitive culture and are trained to compete from the time we’re young (with siblings, classmates, teammates, and more) and then as we get out into the “real world” we often continue to compete with family members, friends, co-workers, and others, especially in our professional lives. We’re even taught that this is a good thing to do and essential for success. This obsession with competition has us relate to life as a game we’re trying to win and to the people around us as our “competitors,” even if they’re the people we love and care about most.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to “win” whatever “games” we play in life. The problem is that due to our own insecurity, we often focus on beating others or think that other people’s success, talent, or even their happiness has something to do with us. In other words, we often root against the fulfillment of other people, so we can feel better about ourselves or try to show others up and dominate them as a way to feel superior. This is very natural, but quite counter-productive, stressful, and ultimately hurtful.

There is both negative competition and positive competition. Negative competition, which most of us are more familiar with, is based on an adolescent notion that when we win we’re “good” and when we lose we’re “bad.” It’s all about being better than or feeling inferior to others – based on certain, external factors, results, and accomplishments. No one really ever truly “wins” in this scenario.

Positive competition is about challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves, and allowing the talent, skill, and support of others to help take us to the next level, go deeper, and get the most out of our potential. When we compete in this positive and conscious way, it’s beautiful, important, and healthy – and it has nothing to do with our true value as human beings. In other words, we aren’t “better” or “worse” based on how we perform or who wins.

Of course there are times when we will win and times when we will lose, and while there is a real impact to the results or lack thereof that we produce in life – living our life as if it’s a competition with everyone around us is incredibly stressful, not very authentic, and a recipe for disaster in most cases.

When we’re willing to let go of the ideas and decisions we made as kids and teenagers about who we are, what’s important, and what makes us “successful” or a person of “value,” we can step into a more authentic, adult, and healthy version of positive competition that can truly empower and inspire us, and help us grow to new heights and depths in our relationships, our work, and our lives.

Who do you compete with in your life in an unhealthy or negative way? What’s underneath that competition? Will you let it go? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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Get Honest Feedback

July 14, 2009

How do you feel about people giving you really honest feedback? If you’re anything like me, you may both love and hate it at the same time. Most of us want the honest feedback of those around us, yet at the same time we’re often scared about what people might say – especially if it could hurt our feelings, ruffle our feathers, or leave us feeling insecure, vulnerable, or embarrassed.

For the most part and in many situations, groups, and relationships in our lives there is an unspoken, unconscious agreement that we make with others – “I won’t call you on yours, if you don’t call me on mine.” While this makes sense and is understandable, given how sensitive many of us can be, especially when it comes to feedback, this lack of authenticity doesn’t serve us, bring us closer to others, or allow us to support and empower each other in any real way (which is what most of us truly want).

Think of some of the honest feedback you’ve received in your life and career and how valuable it has been to your growth and evolution. Although some of it may not have felt so good to hear at first – I bet you’re incredibly grateful not only for the feedback itself, but for the people who were (and are) willing to be honest with you. It takes courage to both give and receive feedback authentically. And, it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Learning to receive the honest feedback and coaching of other people is a critical aspect of living a life of success, growth, and authenticity.

Here are some essential things to think about and practice as you enhance your ability to receive honest feedback:

1) Ask for it. Since honest feedback can be a tricky thing all the way around and many of us are a little insecure about giving it, letting people know that you want them to be honest with you and pro-actively requesting the authentic feedback of others is a great way to make sure you get it. Give people permission to be straight with you – even if you’re a little scared about what they might say. We usually get what we ask for.

2) Be open to the feedback, but remember it’s not the “truth.” It’s important for us to be open to people’s feedback, whether or not we asked for it, and at the same time remember that nothing anyone says to us is the “truth,” (it’s just their opinion). This is one of the many paradoxes of getting feedback from others. Just because they say it doesn’t make it so. And, at the same time, the best approach we can take is to be open to anything and everything people have to say about us. Try on their feedback like you would a coat – if it fits and can help, use it. If not, disregard it. However, be careful about your ego – which will want to argue with feedback you don’t like as a way of survival (yet another paradox).

3) Give honest feedback to others. Be willing to speak your truth to other people, even if you’re a little (or a lot) nervous about it. This is not about “tit for tat” or some kind of competition, but if we really want to create relationships, teams, families, and environments where we can talk to each other in a free, open, vulnerable, and authentic way – we have to be willing to speak up and say things that might be uncomfortable to those around us. Doing this not only gives us the opportunity to make a difference for others, it also creates a standard by which we relate to one another and communicate.

Have empathy and compassion for yourself and others as you engage in these types of honest conversations – they can be sensitive and challenging (especially at first). And, as we all know and have experienced, when we’re willing to get real and give each other honest feedback like this – everyone wins and is empowered at a much deeper and more real level.

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The Elephant in the Room

July 7, 2009

Have you noticed that there’s often an “elephant in the room” and most of the time we don’t acknowledge it. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with the things that people don’t say or are afraid to address or discuss. This is not to say that I have always been (or even now always am) someone who acknowledges the “elephant” myself. Like many people, I get scared to bring it up at times. However, when the elephant is brought up, by me or someone else, even if it’s a little awkward or uncomfortable at first, it always feels better and creates a sense of peace, liberation, and authenticity for everyone involved.

So why do we get so scared to talk about the elephant in the room? We worry that people will get offended or upset, that it will be too uncomfortable to deal with, or that somehow it will make things worse, not better. Underneath most of these and other concerns is a bigger and more selfish concern – we usually worry that people will get mad at us or not like us if we bring up something that seems “inappropriate.”

However, living a life of freedom, power, and authenticity is sometimes about doing and saying things that are uncomfortable – i.e. talking about the elephant in the room. And, being a leader, someone who makes a difference for others, and a person of real boldness requires us to step up and put ourselves out there. Our regrets in life usually have more to do with the things we don’t say and do, not the other way around.

A powerful technique we can use to expand our capacity to speak our truth and talk about “elephants” in a more effective and authentic way is one called “clearing withholds.” This technique which my wife Michelle and I originally learned from a coach years ago, is one that I detail in my new book Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken and have used for many years in workshops, meetings, coaching sessions, and in my own life (especially with Michelle).

A “withhold” is something you’ve been holding onto with another person (or group) that you haven’t shared with them – hurt, resentment, fear, an apology, opinion, an acknowledgement, an idea, or anything else (i.e. an “elephant”). Creating the time and space to communicate these “withholds” is an incredibly powerful and liberating thing to do, even though it can be a little scary. You can do it with your spouse, friends, family, co-workers, or anyone else. One person goes first and says to the other person (or to one specific person if you’re doing this in a group), “There’s something I’ve withheld from you.” The other person responds by saying, “Okay, would you like to tell me?” Then the first person expresses their “withhold” with as much honesty, vulnerability, and responsibility as possible (i.e. using “I” statements, owning their feelings, etc.). The other person’s job is to listen with as much openness as possible, not to react, and to just say “thank you” when the person is done.

It’s best to do this back and forth until both people (or everyone in the group) has shared all of their withholds. When you’re done, one or both of you may want to talk about some of the things that were said, but that isn’t always necessary. This is not about debate or someone being right or wrong, this is about being able to share how you’re feeling and what you’ve been withholding as a way to release it. At some level, each “withhold,” regardless of what it is, isn’t really about the other person anyway, it’s about you (or vice versa).

When we practice this technique (or some variation of it) and we encourage ourselves and those around us to pro-actively talk about the many elephants in the rooms of our lives, we create an environment of openness, trust, and authenticity – which is what all of us want.

Think about the important relationships, situations, and groups in your life. What elephants have you been avoiding? What would you say if you weren’t worried about what people would think or how they would react? See if you can challenge yourself today and this week to acknowledge some of those elephants…and see what happens!

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