Life As A Jigsaw Puzzle

Apr 05

Life As A Jigsaw PuzzleLife arrives like a jigsaw puzzle: disassembled and in random pieces. Our job is to figure out how everything fits together and what our purpose is.

There are many times when the pieces seem to interlock easily and we clearly see where we are headed, but sometimes, no matter how experienced we are at putting the pieces together, we encounter an obstacle: that one funky piece that we just can’t find or swear is missing from the box. In these moments, we all have our own ways of overcoming that obstacle and finding the next step in the journey.

Over the years, clients have shared with me the ways in which they overcome obstacles in life, and the things they do that keep them motivated and moving in the right direction. Here are ten of the most common ones I hear in no specific order:

  1. Hearing stories about other peoples’ success in overcoming things more serious and significant than what I am facing.
  2. Inspirational quotes and books.
  3. Out of necessity and because I don’t have an option to stop moving forward.
  4. Visualizing what success looks like and taking the time to create a vision board, goals tracker, etc.
  5. Reliving past moments where I had success, and seeing how I can use that to energize and give me new insights into my current situation.
  6. Being responsible, and because I need to keep going ahead.
  7. There is something bigger than myself involved.
  8. Reaching out to others and like-minded people for support who can share their experiences and ideas.
  9. Proving something to someone else.
  10. Taking time away to think and decide if it is really the right move.

I’m also curious about what keeps you motivated and moving in the right direction. Which of these resonate with you, and do you have one that works and isn’t on the list? Let me know what works best for you?


4 Ways To Move Past A Roadblock

Mar 08

4 Ways To Move Past A RoadblockA recent game of Scrabble reminded me just how easy it is to get stuck and hit a mental wall. As I stared at the seven tiles on my rack and the myriad of words already intertwined on the board, the tenser I became. Furiously, I began to shuffle the tiles in my rack, hoping that something would emerge. This strategy had worked for me in the past, but after several shuffles I was again at the impasse and growing more frustrated by the minute. How often have you found yourself hitting that mental wall and continuing to pursue solutions to a new problem based on previous experience and strategies used to solve similar problems—only to deepen the impasse?

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the best way to break through being stuck and spur creativity is to let the brain idle so that you can stop the forward momentum in the wrong direction. Think about it like this: you can only go in one direction at a time, so in order to shift course, you’ve first got to stop where you are and assess where you could go. It is only when we let the brain idle that we can engage in contemplating a new direction, stimulate creativity, and uncover new insights and solutions.

Here are some ways to shift the direction and change the trajectory of your thinking so that you can break through those impasses in your life.

1. Stop the Momentum and Get Off the Treadmill

Letting your brain go into idle, or to briefly be distracted from the matter at hand, means that you first must acknowledge what you’re doing just isn’t creating anything other than tension, stress, and reduced creativity. Reduce the pressure by taking a mental break—move on to a task that requires less thought and helps you replace the former thoughts you were myopically focused on. Another strategy is to take a physical pause—get up and stretch, go for a walk, have a snack, or do something else that will help you take your focus off the impasse. All of these options let the brain calm down and clear the stage for new thoughts and insights to emerge.

2. Reduce the Complexity and Seek the Clarity that Distance Brings

Now that your mind has had an opportunity to become quiet and you are more relaxed, you should simplify and enumerate the significant points of the situation at hand. Once you have the high-level issues outlined, you can begin to step back and look at them from a 10,000-foot perspective. This perspective will give you the opportunity to become aware of the subtle signals, patterns, and links between things that were missed earlier when we were anxious and overly focused on the details. The key here is to resist the urge to embed yourself in the minutia and drill down into the detail. Focus more on the patterns, or pay attention to different areas that were not visible to you in your state of heightened anxiety. This will trigger new thoughts and help you uncover previously overlooked connections.

3. Leverage Expertise That is Not Your Own

We already know that what’s keeping us stuck is that we are approaching a new situation using our old patterns of thinking, expertise, and knowledge. It is time to reach out and leverage someone else’s expertise. Choose someone whose knowledge base is different than yours, whose life experience is different, or who can bring a fresh eye to the situation at hand. Listening to how they view the situation, and what they see as significant, can open up new directions for you to begin exploring. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the situation so long that the small details are overlooked, and to an untrained eye they don’t look so small in nature. No two people see things alike, so listening for their approach allows for novel ways of approaching the situation to come to light

4. Notice the Insights and Use That Energy to Move Forward

Insights can take place at any time or any place. Be prepared for them to come at any time—even in your morning shower. Keep track on paper of things you want to explore or pursue. When you have an insight you’ll also get a boost of energy and excitement that will propel you toward the solution. The a-ha moment generates the energy you need to commit to taking that next step, but it also shines a spotlight on all the successive steps you didn’t notice before.

As for me, the answer to my impasse at Scrabble came as the result of taking a pause and listening to someone else’s idea. I took a break from the game and over of cup of tea talked with one of my friends who’d been observing the game. She drew my attention to the fact that among my seven tiles was a blank tile—something right in front of me that I had overlooked as I tried to make a word from the letters in my rack.


Accentuate the Positive in 2016

Jan 12

sparkler3As 2015 draws to a close, it is a great time to celebrate our wins and begin preparing ourselves for success in 2016. Although our specific goals and resolutions for 2016 might be different this time around, the desire, drive, and motivation to pursue them is the same. Each and every one of us hopes and wants the upcoming year to be better than the last. We want to be happy, fulfilled, and successful.

Before you begin to set milestones, plans, and goals for the upcoming year, it is important to notice and acknowledge what you and those around you have done well. Starting your 2016 planning by identifying and acknowledging what you and others have done well helps all involved build and reinforce that as we go into the new year.

You can begin accentuating the positive in yourself by asking the following questions, and then writing down your answers, as you begin your year-end review.

  1. What were the highlights of the past year? What did you learn?
  2. What went well this year and how can you do more of that in the upcoming year?
  3. What impact did what went well have on you and those connected to you?
  4. What did you learn about yourself based on what went well this year?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, it is key to acknowledge yourself for all the things done well, successes you experienced, and the challenges you overcame before deciding what you want to accomplish in 2016. Choose a quiet moment either at the start or end of each day for a week and choose one item to focus on in the moment. Acknowledge the accomplishment by replaying what you did and how you made a difference.

To amplify and share this powerful experience with others after your week of acknowledging yourself, begin acknowledging those around you. You could start off by choosing one person each day and acknowledge something specific that they have done well, and then tell them how it made a difference. Be as specific as you can with yourself and others. Acknowledgement is more that just saying you or they are great. Acknowledgement means noticing what a person does and how they make a difference.

There is no secret formula for living a happier and more fulfilled life. Accentuating the positive in others and ourselves helps us understand how and what motivates us to achieve our goals, leverage what works well, and connect more deeply with who we are and how we make a difference in the world.

My wish for all of you in the New Year is to flourish and have the success and fulfillment that you desire.

What I Would Tell My 22 Year-Old Self

May 14

IfIWere22Given the opportunity to go back in time, I would share the quote that sits beautifully framed on my office desk today with my 22-year-old self. It was written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in 167 AD in his work The Meditations. Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The impact on my thinking was immediate. In one brief moment the power of his words and the resonance they had in my life completely changed my perspective and altered how I would deal with life’s challenges, and what it meant to live a success-filled life. What I realized in that moment was that in its simplicity, this quote holds the key to cultivating the mindset that enables one to effectively deal with any situation or event life brings your way.

The words express the powerful truth that our thoughts, and how we choose to execute them, define the quality of the life we experience. We are all familiar with the stories of people like Louis Zamperini and Eli Wiesel and Marcus Aurelius.

The lives of these men under difficult and even dire circumstances serve as evidence that one always has the freedom to choose how to face their struggles in life. Each in their own way defined the events they experienced, rather than having the events define them. Recognizing that we always have the choice—that power over our minds, thinking, and reactions—gives us the strength and freedom to choose to compromise, oppose, or collaborate in any situation. This means that much more than happiness comes from within. It requires that we seek the facts, the truth, analyze them, consider them in relation to our values, and then decide to act. A decision based on our values and of our choosing gives us the strength to face new challenges, and leaves no place for blame of others or ourselves. Choices and decisions add up, and no matter how seemingly small some are, all of them carry their weight and add up to what we become. Realizing that we ultimately have the power over our choices gives us the strength to take on the difficult challenges that once met leave us with a sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose and in the end a life well lived.

I share this with you in the hope that you will consider this advice as you move out into the world. Know that all the experiences to come, both positive and negative, have the opportunity to be used to your advantage—especially those where initially you feel the most powerless. Unleashing your infinite potential begins with the realization that we cannot control what happens to us—we can only control our thoughts and responses to the events of our lives. As you face the great challenges and successes ahead, find strength and peace to shape your life by having power over your mind.


After Achieving A Major Goal – How Do You Know What Comes Next?

Feb 03

what-comes-nextWe all have major goals that we believe once achieved will lead to lasting success, happiness and fulfillment. We’ve committed to an action plan, dedicated our energy, time and resources and diligently pursued them over the course of years or even decades. These goals become the major driving force in our lives and are the basis for the framework for how we live. Achieving the goal, whether a long sought-after promotion, starting a business, a certain lifestyle, or a gold medal elicits in us an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and exhilaration. Seeing a dream fulfilled gives us a high and a sense of satisfaction – at least in the beginning. However, over time people who achieve long-term goals can often find themselves in a surprising and strange place of doubt and confusion. They no longer need the framework that got them where they are, and they are wondering: what’s next?

How do you find what’s next after achieving a major goal?

We won’t find the answer to what is next outside of ourselves. The journey starts by taking a lesson from the philosopher Socrates. Socrates claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. There is much wisdom to be gained in examining your life, even a success-filled one.   As human beings we are hard-wired to reflect, contemplate, explore and examine what brings purpose, significance and meaning to our lives. By living a well-examined life we can discern the way forward, and create a new framework through which we can view our lives and start the journey anew.

Examining your life requires the courage to ask the big, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable questions. Through questioning we learn what is being asked of us and what we want to ask of ourselves.

Our willingness to engage in that level of introspection will make the world around us more understandable at the deepest levels. This new and deeper understanding will highlight and bring into focus things that were just outside of our view and obscured by our pursuit of the original goal. The traits that enabled you to succeed the first time can be built upon to bring you future and sustainable success in another aspect of your life.

Once you have taken the time to celebrate your accomplishment and have enjoyed the view from where you are, you are ready to begin to find out what’s next in your life.   Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Shift your focus quickly from the not knowing, step back from the rat race, and take some downtime. Taking well-deserved downtime will enable you to begin reflecting on your past, thinking about the present, and envisioning the future.
  • Enjoy the opportunity during the downtime to devote yourself and your time to things that are not immediately productive. This is not time wasted. By contrast, focusing on things that are not immediately productive can lead to higher pursuits.
  • Be willing to experiment with the most outrageous ideas you come up with. It is only an experiment, and the value is in the learning. Contemplate and examine life choices and ideas that always intrigued you but you never had the time nor the ability to try before. For ideas, go back to some of the dreams you had in childhood that were lost when you grew up.
  • Pursue things that lead you to develop self-awareness and challenge your mind and spirit.
  • Engage with others in ways you were not able to in the past. Share your talents and experiences and be open to learning from theirs.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, embrace the reality that achieving a goal – even one that fulfills a life long dream or ambition – isn’t meant to be the end. It is an opportunity to discover new dimensions of who you are and transcend where you are now.

There is not a set formula other than to be willing to undergo the process of creating a well-examined life. The success you achieve depends on how willing you are to challenge yourself and move beyond the success you have already earned. By embarking on this new journey, you remove the chance and randomness in discovering what your new guiding principle and framework is. Life will only get better and be more fulfilling when you find your new passion or way of enhancing the success you already have.

I invite you all on this journey, and look forward to hearing your thoughts, insights and strategies for discovering what’s next for you. By sharing these in the comment field we can all learn from each other.



What is Grit and Why is it Important?

Aug 11

True GritAngela Duckworth left a job as a management consultant at McKinsey to teach math in public schools in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York. While teaching math to middle and high school students, she was intrigued by the lack of success she saw in students who appeared to have all of the advantages over their less intelligent peers. This intrigued her so much that she decided to leave teaching and attend the University of Pennsylvania to earn her Ph.D. in Psychology, and study what led to this outcome. Her research revealed that high achievers possess an essential quality independent of intelligence, self-discipline, and ambition that led them to success. She named this quality “grit”. As an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she continues to study the concepts of self-control and grit and how they impact academic and professional success.

Grit as defined by Duckworth is “the perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and “the ability to stick with them until you master them.” Her research clearly shows that grit is a critical factor in overall long-term success, and how it corresponds to our ability to triumph over setbacks and conquer important long-term goals. Duckworth developed the Grit Scale Test to measure this quality. The scale is used at the United States Military Academy at West Point and has become the best predictor of which cadets would be successful, and which ones would drop out in the rigorous summer training program. Grit mattered more than intelligence, leadership ability, or fitness. Grit isn’t self-discipline, conscientiousness, perseverance, ambition, passion, or optimism— although these do play a role in grit. Instead, grit is that something special that makes all the difference between being smart and being successful, or being talented and being great.

Since grit is at the top of the list of qualities needed to accomplish many important goals in our lives, knowing our level of grit can go a long way in making a difference.

Do you know your grit score?

You can take the Grit Scale Test and find out your score by signing up for a free account at

Once you have your score let me know in the comments how you plan to use this in your life.


Stuck as an Opportunity

Mar 25

stuck-as-an-opportunityEach and everyone of us has taken that trip into the land of stuck where nothing we do seems to work, and we have no idea where to go or what to try next.  Perhaps like some of my clients the feeling of stuck for you has come from a job search that is taking longer than expected or a career that no longer seems to create passion in you.  It may seem like a bit of a contradiction but when a client tells me they are stuck I can’t help but feel that they are on the brink of amazing growth and opportunity.  If the coach and client together respect the value of being stuck, and embrace it as a rest stop on the journey to what can be amazing awareness can happen.

Are you ready to explore stuck?