Archive for Mike Robbins

Remember How Strong You Are


May 14, 2015

In early March of 2011, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay, California, where I was scheduled to speak later that morning. Although it was a pretty big event, I wasn’t feeling all that nervous about it-I had other things on my mind. I called one of my best friends, Theo, to reach out for his support. Theo and I have been friends for more than a decade-we’ve helped each other through a lot of big life stuff, even though we live on opposites sides of the country and due to our busy schedules don’t actually get to see each other in person all that much. I love, trust, and admire Theo a great deal-not only is he one of the smartest people I know, he’s also one of those people you can call at 3 a.m. and know he’ll be there for you.

That particular morning the conversation focused completely on me and our house situation. We’d been trying to work with our lender to figure out how to get out from under the enormous negative equity position we were in. Things were really up in the air with the bank, doing a short sale wasn’t looking all that good, and the reality that we might simply need to walk away and have them foreclose on us was a real possibility. I felt paralyzed by my fear, shame, and embarrassment, and I was completely overwhelmed by the circumstances.

I said, “I don’t know if I can handle this. I can’t believe we put ourselves in this situation. How could I have allowed this to happen? I feel like an idiot!”

Theo listened with empathy and understanding. Then he said, “First of all, Mike, stop being so hard on yourself. Yes, you’ve made some mistakes, but you’re learning from them and you’re clearly not an idiot. Second of all, even with the mistakes you’ve made, a lot of people are in your same situation. It’s not your fault that the economy crashed and the housing market imploded. And, finally, it’s important to remember that you have more than this requires.”

As I allowed what he said to resonate with me, I was touched by a few specific things. First of all, I was reminded once again why Theo has been a constant in my life. He’s always able to acknowledge the reality of a situation and then put it in perspective. Second of all, his words made me stop and take inventory of some of the adversity I’ve overcome in my life. In so doing, I was reminded that I am actually quite resilient. I got to thinking more and more about my own internal strength (and the strength we each possess as human beings) over the hours and days that followed our conversation.

In just about every situation and circumstance in life, we really do have more than is required to not only deal with what’s happening, but to thrive in the face of it. As the saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. While I don’t believe that we have to necessarily suffer and struggle in order to grow and evolve in life, one of the best things we can do when dealing with a major challenge is to look for the gifts and to find the gold in the situation as much as possible.

Each of us has overcome a lot in our lives-both big and small. If you spend enough time walking around the planet, chances are you’ll experience some significant adversity. Dealing with and overcoming it not only teaches us a lot about ourselves, others, and life, but also gives us the opportunity to be reminded of our own power and strength. It’s not that we won’t feel scared, overwhelmed, angry, sad, embarrassed, confused, worried, or more-these feelings and many others are often a part of going through adverse times. However, remembering that “this, too, shall pass” will help us persevere in the midst of challenges, while reminding us that we can actually expand ourselves in the process.

One of the most painful yet growth-inducing experiences of my life was when I got my heart broken in my mid-20s. Sara and I met in college and started dating in our senior year. We were together for three and a half years, and had gotten pretty serious. Going through college graduation, the end of my baseball career, moving in together, the sudden death of her father, the start of our first jobs, a breakup and reconciliation two years into our relationship, and more had bonded us significantly.

In the fall of 1999, Sara decided she didn’t want to be with me anymore, and we split up abruptly. I was crushed. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I’d never experienced emotions like this before in my life. It was hard to eat, sleep, and even get out of bed in the morning. I felt lost and worried I would never find my way again. At one point when I was deep in the throes of my despair, I remember having a vision that I was a running back in a football game. This was an odd vision for me, since I’d never played football. However, I saw myself running with the ball toward the end zone. There were a bunch of guys trying to tackle me, but I was holding on to the ball with both hands, driving my legs as hard as I could, and doing everything possible not to let them bring me down. This vision felt like a sign to me-that the pain, confusion, and loneliness were there for a reason. Although it was difficult, I was strong enough to withstand it, and if I continued to persevere, I would be okay.

While it did take some time, a lot of forgiveness, support, and inner work, I moved through that painful experience and gained a great deal in the process. I learned how strong I was, gained a deeper awareness and empathy for the experience of loss and heartbreak, and came away with a greater understanding of what’s important to me in relationships and in life. Going through that heartache made me a better person and also helped get me ready to meet Michelle, which I’m eternally grateful for.

When we remember how strong we are, not only can it help us as we face challenges or adversity in the moment, it can give us much needed confidence and faith that we actually have what it takes to navigate this crazy and beautiful thing called life. As Glennon Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior and creator of one of my favorite blogs, Momastery, likes to say, “Life can be hard sometimes, but that’s okay, because we can do hard things.”

This is an excerpt from Nothing Changes Until You Do, by Mike Robbins posted  with permission.  Published by Hay House (May, 2015 in paperback) and available online or in bookstores.

What can you (or do you) do to remember how strong you are? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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My New TEDx Talk – Bring Your Whole Self to Work

April 9, 2015Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 1.36.56 PM copy

I hope you’re doing well and having a great week!

As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter blog post (and you may have seen from some if my social media posts), I recently gave another Tedx talk.  This new one is called Bring your Whole Self to Work.

I wanted to share the video of the talk with you in case you haven’t seen it yet, for two main reasons.  First of all, because I think you’ll enjoy it and get some good stuff out of it – especially as it relates to your professional life.  And, second of all, because if you feel moved to do so, I’d be honored and grateful if you shared it with others…via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. 🙂

The talk is just 12 minutes long and focuses on the importance of bringing all of who we are to the work that we do, as well as doing what we can to create an environment around us where people can do the same.  These are things I’ve been researching, writing, and speaking about for years – and I feel like this new TEDx talk encapsulates some of my newest thinking and most exciting insights.

I hope you enjoy this talk and it gives you some inspiration and ideas about how you can more fully bring all of who you are to work that you do (and encourage others to do so as well).

And, if you’d like to share the video of this talk, you can simply forward this link ( or this email to others.  If you’d like to post it on social media, here are two samples you can use or edit:

For Facebook/LinkedIn:

Mike Robbins, author of Nothing Changes Until You Do, just gave a great new TEDx talk called Bring Your Whole Self to Work, check it out:

For Twitter:

Check out this great new TEDx talk by author @MikeDRobbins called Bring Your Whole Self to Work,

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Be Careful of Monday Morning Quarterbacking

american footballFebruary 4, 2015

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Wow… that was quite an exciting ending to the Super Bowl, wasn’t it?  If you happened to have missed it, the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.  The Seahawks had the ball on the one yard line with less than a minute to go in the game and a few downs to work with.  It looked like they were going to score a touchdown and win the game.  However, instead of handing the ball off to their superstar running back, Marshawn Lynch, they decided to pass the ball on second down, and it was intercepted – thus clinching the dramatic victory for the Patriots.

Immediately following the game and over the past few days, there has been a lot of criticism aimed at Seahawks coach Pete Carroll for calling the play, and at his quarterback, Russell Wilson, for throwing the interception.  In our local newspaper the headline read, “Worst Call Ever.”  This is the epitome of “Monday morning quarterbacking,” a term that is often used to describe the phenomenon of second-guessing not only the decisions of football coaches and execution of players, but second-guessing in general.

With a game of this magnitude (it was watched on TV by the largest audience in the history of television… over 115 million people) and with the nature of how things transpired at the end of the game, it makes sense that people feel passionately about it and have strong opinions about what happened.  I, too, found it odd that they would call for a pass play and not a run play in that situation.  However, I am finding myself both amused and shocked by the level of intensity of the second-guessing and I think it speaks to something much more important and universal than people’s opinions about an important football game.

Monday morning quarterbacking is dangerous and is something many of us do with others and ourselves.  We also worry about either making mistakes or about the opinions or judgments of others so much, it stops us from taking risks, trying new things, and going for it in life… much to our own detriment.

What we often fail to see is that it is easy to second-guess someone else (or ourselves) when failure happens.  For example, if Russell Wilson had completed that pass, many people would have thought Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator were geniuses.  I assume people would have said things like, “Wow, that was a risky and unconventional decision, but it caught the Patriots off guard and was brilliant… that’s why they’re the champs.”  But, since it didn’t work out and ended up costing them the game, people have been saying things like, “What were they thinking?  How could they have done that?  This will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  They’re idiots.”

These comments (and ones that are probably much worse), while understandable, don’t take into consideration a few important things.

First of all, the Seahawks, their coach, and their quarterback won the Super Bowl last year, had an amazing turn-around this season, came back from the brink of elimination two weeks ago in the NFC championship game, and almost had another miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.  Two plays before the interception was one of the greatest plays I have ever seen in a Super Bowl and it put them in a position to potentially and surprisingly win the game, after just giving up another touchdown to the Patriots.  I’m not even a Seahawks fan, and it is hard not to appreciate what they have done in the past few years and how good they are.

Second of all, one play, even a big one like this, doesn’t invalidate all of the success and expertise of an individual coach, player, or team.  It also never is the deciding factor in a victory or a loss, even though it seems like it.  There are lots of things that have to come together in a specific combination for a game to go one way or another – just like in life.

Third of all, football, like life, is played on the field… not on the sidelines, in the stands, in the commentator’s booth, or on the couch at home.  None of us know exactly what it’s like to be on the field and play the game… unless we’re actually playing in that game.  The good news about being in the game is that you can have an impact on the outcome.  The bad news is that sometimes you make a decision or a mistake that causes you and your team to lose.  This is the reality of life and sports… and one of the many things that make both life and sports interesting and exciting.

Look at your own life… where do you find yourself being a Monday morning quarterback?  Where do you find yourself worrying about the other Monday morning quarterbacks around you?  What if instead of second-guessing ourselves and others (or worrying about second-guessing), we focused more of our attention on getting into the game, playing with passion, going for it, and trusting that things will work out as they are meant to work out, even and especially if we fail.

No one is perfect.  Even champions make mistakes.  Everyone is an “expert” after the fact, but no one has a crystal ball in the moment and can know for sure what the best move to make is.  Football, just like life, can be unpredictable.  Reflecting on and evaluating our decisions, our performance, our effort, and that of those around us after the fact can be helpful, healthy, and growth-inducing.

However, Monday morning quarterbacking, especially when we do it with arrogance, righteousness, and without an awareness of the fact that it’s always easier to make decisions in hindsight and when we’re not the ones at risk, can be debilitating and damaging.  Let’s stop doing this so much and try being the quarterbacks of our own lives… and doing so on Sundays, while the game is happening, not simply when it’s over.

Where do you find yourself being a Monday morning quarterback in your life? What are some things you can do to stop doing that and take your power back? Share your thoughts, actions, ideas, insights, and more here on my blog below.

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The Importance of Self-Trust

Lonely OakJanuary 29, 2015

How well do you trust yourself, I mean really trust yourself?

For most of us, myself included, self-trust can be tricky. We have a tendency to second-guess ourselves, not listen to our gut, or hang onto negative memories from the past when we’ve made mistakes or “bad” decisions. These things and others make it difficult for us to trust ourselves and thus create challenges in our relationships, our work, and our lives.

Lack of self-trust, while debilitating in many ways, is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with us for not trusting ourselves… it isn’t something we’ve been specifically encouraged or trained to do. Like appreciation, authenticity, or many other important aspects of our life and growth, the first step in our process of expansion is to notice and tell the truth about why it can be difficult. In the case of self-trust, once we’re able to honestly acknowledge our challenge with it (and have some compassion about it), we can start to consciously choose to trust ourselves in a more real way.

What makes it difficult or challenging for you to fully trust yourself? Take a moment to consider this. The more aware of this we can be, with empathy, the more likely we are to move beyond it and let go of our “story” about why we can’t trust ourselves.

Here are a few things you can do to enhance your ability to trust yourself:

1) Listen to your inner wisdom. We all have inner wisdom. Some of us refer to this as our intuition, others call it our gut, and still others relate to it as our higher consciousness. Whether you call it one or all of these things (or something else), I believe that we’re all very intuitive and that we each have a deep sense of what is true and right for us in most situations. As we practice listening to this inner wisdom (through meditation, prayer, quiet time, breath, conscious thought, and more), we begin to trust ourselves on a deeper level.

2) Be willing to take risks, go for it, and make mistakes. So often we don’t try things because we think we might fail. I love Michael Jordan’s quote about this, he said, “I missed 100% of the shots I never took.” While it can be scary for us to take risks in life, one of the greatest ways we can build our capacity for self-trust is to go for it… even if we fail. As we build up our ability to take risks, we also grow our capacity for courage, which in turn expands our ability to trust ourselves.

3) Forgive yourself! This is a life-long process and is vital as it relates to self-trust. One of the main reasons we don’t trust ourselves is that we haven’t forgiven ourselves for mistakes we’ve made, pain we’ve caused, or regrets we have. These “demons” from our past haunt us and we use them as evidence to not go for things and not trust ourselves. As we enhance our capacity to forgive ourselves, we heal from the past and breathe new life into our experience. This creates a genuine sense of enthusiasm for both the present moment and for our future. And, as we’re able to forgive ourselves, we can let go of our attachment to being “perfect” and having to do everything just right… which then allows us to trust ourselves more freely.

Think of something important in your life right now – a decision you’ve been on the fence about because you’re worried about making the wrong choice (i.e. not trusting yourself). Given what we’ve been discussing here, if you fully trusted yourself in this moment, what would you do in regards to this important issue? I bet if you listen to your inner wisdom, allow yourself to take a risk, and know that you can forgive yourself no matter what happens – the answer to the question “what should I do?” in this situation is quite clear.

What can you do to enhance your self-trust and listen to your inner wisdom more? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more here on my blog below.

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How to Create What You Truly Want in 2015

athletics trackJanuary 8, 2015

As we embark on another new year of life, I find myself experiencing a mixture of emotions about 2015.  I’m excited about the possibilities of this New Year and inspired by the energy of creation that exists at this special time.  There is a magical quality to this first week or two of the New Year that I always appreciate.

At the same time, I find myself feeling a sense of trepidation about setting new goals. As I talked about in my post last week, New Year, Be You, there seems to be this pressure we put on ourselves at this time of year to focus on how we can “fix” ourselves and our lives, instead of simply appreciating who we are, how we are, and the amazing lives we already have.

Because of this, among other things, most people I know and have worked with over the years, including myself, have a somewhat funny or disempowered relationship to goal-setting for the New Year.  Whether you’re someone who spends lots of time and energy creating your New Year’s resolutions or you decided years ago that you wouldn’t bother (since in years past, by mid-January, most of them have gone off the rails or out of your mind anyway); I don’t know too many people who are genuinely inspired, motivated, or empowered by their New Year’s intentions in a sustainable and real way.  How about you?

Here are some of the main reasons I think we aren’t authentically inspired by our goals or empowered to make them happen:

  • Our “goals” are often about fixing what we think is wrong with us
  • Once we set them, we feel a sense of pressure to make them happen
  • We worry that we won’t accomplish or achieve what we want, and then we’ll feel like failures
  • We don’t get the kind of support we really want and need
  • We forget that our intentions are designed to support us, not stress us out
  • We get too focused on the outcome and forget about the experience
  • We allow competition and scarcity to take over

For these and other reasons many us either don’t set powerful intentions for the New Year or we do so out of fear in a way that creates more stress in our lives.  One of the best things we can do to shift our perspective about this and create an empowering relationship to our process of setting goals for 2015 is to understand some key distinctions – intentions, goals, and actions.

Intentions – Our intentions are states of being and authentic desires.  In other words, we may have an intention to be peaceful, grateful, joyous, loving, successful, healthy, wealthy, or more.  Our intentions are our high ideals and are usually at the root of our motivation for any of our specific goals.  Most of us don’t really want goals like a new relationship, more money, or a fit body simply for the sake of those things themselves – we want them (or others) because of what we believe we will experience by having them in our life.  By starting with our intentions, we get right to the source of what we truly want.  Intentions are the core and the magic of all of our goals and desires.

Goals – Effective and powerful goals are ones that are specific and measurable.  We want to be able to track our progress and know for sure if we are reaching our goals or not.  This doesn’t have to be a competition (with others or ourselves) and doesn’t have to be filled with stress, pressure, shame, or guilt (which is sadly how we often relate to our results).  Having our goals as specific and measurable just makes them clear and more likely to manifest.  And, the paradox we have to always remember when setting and working on our goals is that we can’t be attached to the outcome – which will make us crazy and take us off course with our real intentions.  Our goals simply take our intentions and focus them on tangible outcomes in the world.

Actions – Creating action-oriented practices that support us to manifesting our goals and intentions is an essential daily, weekly, and monthly process for our success and fulfillment.  Coming up with action plans that inspire us, connecting to the goals we’re working on, and fulfilling our intentions is vital to all of this.  This is where the rubber meets the road, and is often the place where things break down for us.  The breakdown with actions usually has more to do with a lack of support and accountability (which then allows us to let life take over and we lose our focus) than it does with any “failure” or “weakness” on our part.  Having practices that support us and help us take the baby steps needed to manifest our goals and intentions is such an important piece of puzzle.  It’s also important for us to be kind and compassion with ourselves when we fail, as we sometimes do, with our actions.  If we learn to forgive ourselves and get back on the horse when we don’t do the specific things we plan to do, it allows us to give ourselves the space we need to get going again, instead of simply giving up when life gets in the way.

Here is an example of how this could look in a specific area of life.  Let’s say you have a desire to make more money (which is a very common one that many of us have).  Start with your intention.  For example, “My intention is to experience a real sense of abundance, peace, and freedom with money and to easily manifest income.”  Then create a specific measurable result-oriented goal.  “I will generate $100,000 by 12/31/2015.”  The next step is to come up with a few related actions/practices.  “I will read three or more books this year on manifesting money. I will set up two or more meetings per month to talk to people about new money-making ideas. I will make a plan each month for specific things I can do professionally to increase my income.”

The final piece of the process is creating some kind of regular accountability and support structure for this.  You can hire a coach, join a mastermind group, create a success/ accountability partnership with a friend, and more.  Having someone, or a group of people, you make commitments to and whom you empower to hold you accountable, will make all the difference in the world.

Have fun with this.  Don’t take it or yourself too seriously… it’s just life, you’re allowed to make mistakes, screw things up, and fall down (which we all do and always will).  Be kind to yourself in this process and in this New Year.  And, when we remember that our intentions (those states of being and authentic desires) are what we are truly after (not the specific outcomes or actions), it can allow us to take the pressure off of ourselves, have more fun, and trust that things will manifest as they are meant to – especially if we open up and let them show up!

What are your main intentions for 2015?  How can you create empowering support and accountability for your goals and actions in this new year? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog.

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New Year, Be You

party blowers and paper streamersJanuary 1, 2015

With the New Year upon us, the annual “new year, new you” phenomenon is all around – in the worlds of advertising, media, self-help and more. And while this time of year can be a great catalyst for positive change in our lives, what if we made a commitment to live our lives in 2015 focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we accomplish, what we look like, what we’re striving for, and more? One of best things we can do in this New Year is to focus on who we really are and what’s most important to us, instead of who we think we’re supposed to be.

Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our title, our home, our status, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for many of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done). These past few years have taught many of us, in some cases quite painfully, how quickly the external circumstances of our lives (and the world) can change dramatically and things can be taken away.

The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me valuable?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this inquiry on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case and is also one of the main reasons why most of our New Year’s “resolutions” don’t really last.

What if, in addition to having important goals, we could also expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves and being who we really are this year – having nothing to do with our external circumstances? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now, is good enough?

Being ourselves actually takes a great deal of courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve picked up from the collective consciousness – that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, make a certain amount of money, and more, in order to be happy and successful in life. Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off-putting, and, at times, lonely.

However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage to just be who we are, without apology or pretense, so much of our suffering, stress, pressure, and worry in life simply goes away.

Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are in this New Year:

  • Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff). The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience. And, as we really get honest with ourselves, we may realize that outside of these external things, we don’t really know who we are. As scary as this may seem on the surface, it’s actually great news and can give us access to a deeper and more meaningful experience of who we are.
  • Appreciate who you really are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self-love.
  • Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be. It actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.

Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. This year, instead of trying to be a “new” you by fixing a list of things you think need to be fixed about you, just be yourself and see what happens.

How can you accept, appreciate, and simply BE yourself in 2015? What does this mean to you? What support do you need in your life this year to step more fully into who you really are? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more here on my blog.

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Remember That We’re All Doing the Best We Can

mirando el horizonteNovember 13, 2014

I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, authenticity, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Maybe you can you relate to this yourself?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and those involved.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have (and given the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing), it usually calms me down and creates a sense of compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

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Culture and Chemistry Matter

football fansOctober 30, 2014

Wow… that was an unbelievable World Series!  If you watched it passionately as I did, you know what I’m talking about.  Even if you didn’t and you don’t know or care that much about baseball or sports, there are a number of things that made this World Series remarkable and also some important things we can learn from it that go way beyond baseball and sports in general.

First of all, the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series title in five years.  That is almost impossible to do, especially in this day and age in pro baseball and also because each of the three Giants teams that have won the World Series in recent years (2010, 2012, 2014) didn’t have the most talent, the best record, or the numbers to “justify” their success.

Second of all, no one expected the Giants or their World Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals, to be in the World Series this year.  The Giants had a stretch of about two months this season where they were literally the worst team in baseball and they barely even made the playoffs.  The Royals as an organization hadn’t made it to the playoffs in 29 years, had almost no players on their roster with post season experience, and also barely made the playoffs themselves.  Both teams were “underdogs” the whole way and beat teams that were supposed to beat them.  Even when they were playing each other, it seemed like they were both underdogs in the World Series.

Third of all, and probably most important, what we learned from this post season, this World Series, and especially from these two remarkable teams who both “over-achieved” is that culture and chemistry matter!  In fact, they both showed that these things are actually more important than talent, statistics, and conventional wisdom.

I’ve had the honor of working with the San Francisco Giants organization since early in the season in 2010 and I’ve seen first-hand how they have built an incredible culture throughout their entire organization.  While some of the core players have stayed the same, a good number of players have changed throughout this incredible run. What hasn’t changed, and has only increased, is their focus on culture and chemistry, and the way they come together as a team at the most important moments.  It is not an accident they have had so much success over the past five seasons.

I had the honor of playing in the Kansas City Royals organization – they drafted me out of Stanford in 1995 and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to play pro baseball.  I played three seasons in their minor league system before an arm injury ended my playing career.  And while I no longer have many personal connections to the organization, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Royals organization and for Kansas City.  They have great fans and they haven’t had much to cheer about with the Royals for the past 29 years.

What I loved seeing and learning about this Royals team was how much heart, passion, and joy they played the game with… and how much they embraced the moment and enjoyed the incredible ride they were on.  In the post game interviews after losing a heart-breaking game 7 by a score of 3-2 (with the tying run just 90 feet away from scoring), many of the Royals players and their manager talked about how much fun they had, how proud they were of themselves and each other, and how amazing the fans in Kansas City are.  Of course they were disappointed, but they focused on some of the incredible aspects of what they had accomplished and what they appreciated about the experience.  That was not only classy of them, but remarkable and inspiring!

There are so many things we can learn from these two teams and from this World Series.  Whether in sports, business, or life – we have all had experiences of being around a group of people where the talent was strong, but the team wasn’t.  And, on the flip side, we’ve all been involved with groups of people where we may not have had “all stars” in every spot, but there was something special about how our team came together and performed as a unit.  This is the magic of culture and chemistry and it is as important as anything to our success… we just sometimes forget how important it is and spend way too much time and energy focused on talent, action, statistics, and outcomes.

Here are a few things we can remember and that the Giants and Royals taught us about the importance of culture and chemistry:

1) Appreciate what you are doing – Having fun is essential, even when we are faced with stressful or difficult tasks.  While baseball is a game, at the professional level and especially in the World Series, it is a HUGE deal.  There is a lot at stake on many levels for both teams, all the players, and everyone involved.  If you watched any of the World Series, you could see that these guys were having fun and appreciating what they were doing, in the midst of the tension.  Before he came to bat for the first time in game 7 of the World Series, the Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval smiled and winked at the camera, looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world.  He ended up getting three hits and was on base all four times during the game.

2)  Leave it all on the field – I remember my pitching coach Dean Stotz at Stanford saying to us, “Men, in baseball and in life, there are really only two things you can control, your attitude and your effort.  Everything else is out of your control.”  We spend a lot of time and energy focused on and worried about things that are out of our control.  However, showing up and playing whatever game we are playing with passion and, as we say in baseball, “leaving it all on the field,” are essential to creating a winning culture and the chemistry it takes to be a champion.  At the end of the final game of the World Series, you could see how exhausted both teams were, even though they were still playing with as much passion as possible.  They had truly left it all out on the field and it was a beautiful thing to see.

3)  Love your teammates – This may be the most important element of all… love your teammates.  Last year when the Giants all-star right fielder Hunter Pence gave a speech at AT&T Park after receiving an award, he said about his teammates, “I love every minute of playing with you guys.  I know some of you don’t like it when I say ‘I love you,’ you think it’s soft… but I think it’s the strongest thing we’ve got.”  He’s right – love is the most powerful force in the universe and the most important ingredient to culture, chemistry, and success.

After the final out of the World Series, the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, who is their best overall player (although he struggled in this World Series in terms of results), and their pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who had just completed one of the greatest performances in World Series history, embraced in the middle of the field.  It was beautiful to see.  Both of these young men (Posey is 27 and Bumgarner is 25) have played together since they were in the minor leagues and have been key contributors on all three of the Giants’ World Series winning teams.  But, in that moment, it wasn’t about their statistics, their contracts, or even their results (although they were celebrating the ultimate results… winning the World Series), it was about their relationship and connection to each other, their team, and the entire fan base of the San Francisco Giants.  And, if you looked closely you could see Bumgarner say to Posey in his ear, “I love you, man!”  To me, it was the best highlight of the night and it epitomized not only the amazing culture and chemistry of the San Francisco Giants, but what it takes to be a true championship team!

Where in your life are you focused more on talent, action, and results than culture and chemistry?  What can you do to put more attention on culture and chemistry in a way that can benefit you and those around you?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

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Are You In The Game?

guantone baseballOctober 9, 2014

I’ve been fascinated by the Major League Baseball playoffs, which started a little over a week ago.  As a former baseball player and lifelong fan, I usually watch the post season games…especially when one of our local teams here in the Bay Area is involved.  This year, both local teams (the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants) made it to the playoffs.  Unfortunately, The A’s got knocked out right away.  The Giants, on the other hand, are still alive and playing quite well…they seem to have some real October magic the past few years.

Although my personal interest and allegiance to the teams I like are what drew me to pay attention to the playoffs this year, I’m seeing, yet again, so many great life lessons involved in these games.  What’s been remarkable about the baseball post season so far this year is how many close games, twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes there have been.  None of the four teams left in the playoffs were favored.  In other words, each post season series has involved an upset, including seeing the Kansas City Royals, the organization which I played for back in 90s, advance for the first time in 29 years.

While these close games, upsets, and unexpected outcomes have been exciting for the fans of the teams still alive (and baseball fans in general), they have also involved a number of very successful teams and players not performing up to the level which was expected of them.  As a former player myself, I always think about the individuals and teams who lose and fail, and my heart goes out to them, because I know how disappointing, embarrassing, and downright painful that can be.  However, that’s all part of the game – someone wins and someone loses.  And, in all sports which have an ultimate “champion,” everyone involved, except for the members of the championship team, ends up losing.

Of course this is just the nature of baseball, and life in many cases.  And, as important as we take pro sports in our culture, at the end of the day, most of us realize it’s not a matter of life and death (although when our team is involved, it’s easy to forget that).  However, this fear of failing and losing, and specifically doing so publicly, is something that impacts most of us at some level personally.  We go to extraordinary lengths in our lives to make sure we don’t fail or lose, and to definitely make sure we don’t do so publicly.

Unfortunately, in baseball, like in life, if we aren’t willing to fail and lose, and even to do so publicly, we’ve probably signed up for the wrong game.  There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide – playing the game of baseball, just like living life, is ultimately a dangerous and vulnerable endeavor.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or how talented you are, on any given day you can lose and cost your team the game, and possibly the entire season.

Clayton Kershaw who pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and is considered my most experts to be the best pitcher in baseball, not only signed a 7-year, $215 million contract before the start of the season, had one of the best seasons by a pitcher in recent history this year.  He’s going to win the Cy Young award for the best pitcher in the league, and may also win the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award (which is rarely given to pitchers).  He lost both of the games he started in the Dodgers’ series against the St. Louis Cardinals and didn’t pitch anywhere nearly as well as he did all season long.  He failed.  He lost.  He did so in a big, public way.  His team got eliminated, even though they were expected to advance.

However, with all of this thought about failing and losing, and doing so publicly…as the saying goes, “We can’t win if we don’t play.”  And, even worse than losing or failing, is that we often don’t even show up for the game.  Or, if we do, we sit in the stands and comment on the game, instead of actually getting in there and playing.  Life happens in the game, no on the sidelines.  It can be scary in the game.  Sometimes you get hurt.  Sometimes you don’t get what you want.  Sometimes you fail.  And sometimes you even lose, and do so in a public, painful, and humiliating way.  But, so what?  We’ve all played and lost…and survived.  What are we so afraid of?

As a mentor of mine said years ago, “You’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

Let’s stop trying to simply survive life, let’s get in the game and play.  And, if we have the courage to play, we may as well leave it all on the field and play with passion, heart, and authenticity.  Because when we do that, whether we “win” or “lose,” we can take pride in the fact that we showed up, put ourselves out there, and had the courage to go for it.

Where in your life are you in the game?  Where in your life can you put yourself in the game (even if you’re scared)?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

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Are You Avoiding a Difficult Conversation?

KrakowSeptember 4, 2014

A number of years ago a mentor of mine said something really important to me.  “Mike,” he said, “do you know what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want to have?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s probably just a ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.  If you get good at those ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversations, you’ll have fantastic relationships.  But, if you do like most of us and avoid them, you’ll end up being a ‘victim’ of the people and situations in your life… and you’ll also give away a lot of your power to others,” he said.

His wisdom and insight was spot on, and I’ve been sharing it with others ever since he said it to me.  And although I’ve had my fair share of sweaty-palmed conversations over the years, and in most cases they have gone quite well, allowed me to resolve conflicts with others, and created a deeper level of trust and connection in my relationships, I’m still amazed at how easy it is for me to avoid having conversations that I assume will be uncomfortable.

There are a few specific situations and relationships in my life right now that clearly require these types of conversations, and I’ve been finding all kinds of creative justifications for not having them, which, as I’ve learned many times in the past, doesn’t serve me and takes an enormous amount of energy.

So why do we do this?  Why do we avoid difficult conversations, or worse, end up gossiping, complaining, and actively blaming others for our own discomfort?  I think there are a number of reasons we do this, but here are a few of the big ones.

First of all, we live in a culture of blame and avoidance.  It’s much easier and frankly more socially acceptable to blame others when something happens we don’t like or to simply avoid dealing with a conflict or difficult situation.  Most of us weren’t taught in school, at home, or as we’ve moved into our adult lives how to effectively deal with conflict in a healthy and productive way, so we aren’t all that well-equipped to address it.

Second of all, we’ve all had painful experiences in our past trying to deal with difficult situations and conversations.  From the most extreme to the somewhat mild, each of us has experienced pain, hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, and more in our attempts to address a conflict, stand up for ourselves, or engage in a touchy discussion.  These experiences often cause us to protect ourselves in one way or another.

Third of all, talking about stuff like this makes us vulnerable and it can be quite scary, both because of our past experiences and also because by doing so we expose ourselves to those specific things we don’t want to experience – pain, hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, and more.

It takes courage to have those ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversations (which sometimes take more than ten minutes, of course).  More often than not, we’d rather be “safe” than risk looking bad, making things worse, or doing damage to ourselves, our relationships, and others.

However, usually what’s at risk is just our ego.  And although there are no guarantees and it does take guts to engage in these types of conversations, each of us knows deep within us that we’ll be fine no matter what happens, and in fact, we also know that not being willing to have these types of conversations is ultimately way more damaging to us, our relationships, and everyone around us than taking the risk and speaking our truth.

Here are a few things to think about and remember when dealing with a conflict or difficult conversation:

1) Take responsibility – It always “takes two to tango.” Taking responsibility is not about being at fault or blaming the other person, it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we are a part of the issue.  It’s also about honestly feeling and expressing our emotions with authenticity.

2) Address the conflict directly – Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you approach someone with an issue, but make sure to do so as soon as possible, don’t let it fester.

3) Seek first to understand – As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding, compassion, and empathy as possible – even and especially when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person is coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4) Use “I” statements – If someone does or says something and I have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If I judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it not “true” (it’s just my opinion) it will most likely trigger a defensive response from them. We must own our feedback as ours, not speak it like the “truth.”  Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of truth, ideally without blame or judgment.

5) Go for a win-win – The only real way to have a conflict resolved authentically is if it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible – we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6) Acknowledge others – Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a situation that involves lots of people, acknowledgment is essential to our ability to engage in productive conflict and to be able to resolve it in an authentic and effective way. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their truth.

7)  Get support and have compassion for yourself in the process –  A lot of times these difficult situations and conversations bring up a lot of fear and cut to the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Because of this, it is important for us to reach out to others for authentic support (not agreement) who can help us both in a practical and emotional sense work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and responsible way.  It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves as we attempt to engage in these conversations… they aren’t usually fun or easy for most of us.

What can you do right now to have any difficult conversations you have been avoiding in a healthy and authentic way?  What support do you need?  Leave a comment about this here on my blog.

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