Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Casting Your Vision for 2017

So, how was your 2016? Despite the holiday frenzy, I hope you took some time to reflect on the year, highlighting your blessings and, yes, considering what might have gone better. What brought you the greatest joy? What were your personal growth successes? Whose lives did you impact the most? What lessons did you learn from your greatest challenges? Does your future look differently?

Soon, the bowl games will be over and it’ll be time to cast your vision for the new year (including completing our goals from 2016!). With a renewed spirit and fresh thinking, some exciting opportunities may be in store.

Here are some tips to help you craft your vision for 2017:

Personal Growth:

Regardless of our age, we can always take steps to improve our personal (and professional) brand. Perhaps you’ve received some constructive criticism. Or, you wish you possessed a quality you admire in others. This list of positive attributes might stimulate ideas. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • How would you most like to improve your mind, body, and spirit?
  • Which growth goals, if achieved, would have the greatest impact on your life and on others?
  • What new experiences and learning would allow for growth, enjoyment, or potential impact on the community?
  • How might you manage your time more effectively and reduce distractions?
  • Do you have a solid understanding of your assets, interests, and passions?

Relationships:

Positivity is a powerful force in life, especially in our relationships. It’s why we should begin each year by identifying the relationships we’d like to improve and how we might begin the process. (Yes, it generally pays for us to initiate the steps rather than wait for the other party… as difficult as this may be.)

Here are some other questions worth considering:

  • How is technology affecting your relationships with family and friends? Consider making your family time tech free. Technology IS having a serious effect on relationships and communication, so be on guard.
  • For parents: who could become a potential role model and mentor to your children? They’ll help foster new, valuable relationships and help your children build their network. Also, how can you build stronger relationship capital with each of your children?
  • Are politics getting in the way of your friendships? If so, it’s repair time!

Community:

Our greatest sense of joy, purpose, and fulfillment often comes from serving others. If giving back to your community is an area you’d like to strengthen, these questions might help channel your desire into a plan:

  • If you didn’t have to work for a paycheck, how would you contribute to society?
  • If you could solve any problem or pursue any cause, what would you choose?
  • Which people or needs tug most at your heart?
  • Which organizations or programs are aligned with your passions and could benefit from your talents?

Always remember, someone out there needs exactly what you have to offer!

Career:

No matter where you are in your career, there are always opportunities to “up your game.” These ideas might take yours to a new level:

  • For students, take a skills and interests inventory to identify potential matches. Then, as your candidate list narrows, talk with people in those jobs to gain from their wisdom. It’ll either confirm your interest or steer you away. By investing in your career exploration and understanding your talents, passions, and interests, you’ll be in great shape to find a good fit.
  • For experienced employees: 1) is there a new skill/training that will position you to advance? 2) how can you improve your existing job performance? 3) is there someone you would like to be mentored by or whom you can mentor? and 4) what ways can you contribute to your employer’s success that may, or may not, fit within your job description?

Finances:

Finally, we all should be reviewing our financial goals annually as a course of habit. What ways might you learn to save and invest more, spend more wisely, give more to charitable causes, and improve your financial literacy? Are you on a pathway to achieving your financial goals? What tweaks do you need to make?

Best wishes on your vision casting and for a fantastic 2017!

 

 

4 Tips to Help Your New Year’s Goals Really Stick

Wow, the holiday season really flew by, didn’t it? There is so much anticipation leading up to Christmas, and in one wonderful, joy-filled day with family, it’s over. The lights come down, the Christmas music goes away, and life returns to normal. Couldn’t it last just a little longer?

I know I’m not the only one who experiences a post-holiday funk from time to time. But, I’ve found the best antidote is having new things to look forward to. When I take a fresh start to the new year with a sense of purpose and adventure, it makes all the difference in the world. It involves setting new goals to better myself and exploring new ways to contribute to things I’m passionate about! There’s a LOT to look forward to when we take a strategic approach.

So, in this season of new hopes and resolutions, here are a few tips to make your 2015 goals really stick and take your life to a whole new level:

  1. Set tangible goals, not generic For example, saying “I want to become more philanthropic and outward-focused in the coming year,” doesn’t give you something tangible to work towards. Instead, make a more specific resolution, such as “I would like to start volunteering at the soup kitchen once a month and donating 5% of my income to my favorite charity/mission.” See the difference? Measurability improves accountability!
  2. Be realistic. Don’t tell yourself you’d like to buy a new Mercedes if you can’t afford it, or hope you’ll lose 50 pounds if you don’t have time to go to the gym or plan to drastically change your diet. Instead, resolve to buy a safer vehicle with less than thirty thousand miles on it, or to exercising daily and eat healthier. Success with small steps builds momentum!
  3. Involve a friend. If you’re hoping for big change in your life but you’re in it alone, it’ll be much more difficult. With the buddy system, you’ll have accountability and someone to keep you on track (and you can do the same for them). Encouragement builds hope and confidence! Plus, it’s a lot more fun!
  4. Give yourself grace. Above all else, be kind to yourself. No one is perfect, and even a small upward movement is better than no movement at all. If you made a mistake and did something you swore you wouldn’t do last year, IT’S OKAY. Tomorrow is a new day, with new opportunities for growth and impact. More often than not, achieving our goals is a “two steps forward, one step back” reality. So, don’t get discouraged when you regress a little. Shake it off, resolve to get back on track today, and remember, you’ve got this!

So, have at it! As you put away your holiday gifts and decorations, start thinking about what you can do to make 2015 really count for you, your family, and your friends. Instead of feeling disappointed that the season is over, be filled with anticipation for what is to come. It’s never too late to make an effort to better yourself, and this is the perfect time to do it. Good luck!

Unforgettable Conversations

The year 2012 will easily go down as the most amazing of my life. It seems every day is a new adventure of unplanned connections, unexpected emails from appreciative readers, visits with new ambassadors, first-time experiences, and unforgettable conversations with very special people. Life is great at 58!
 
In my new role as author, educator, and speaker, I find myself in new territories and circumstances that touch the lives of young people. It can involve a talk to schools or parent groups, meeting with youth mentors, attending educational conferences, or doing a book launch halfway around the world in Indonesia. I love being “in the trenches,” experiencing firsthand the hopes, dreams, and struggles of today’s youth. These kids have left an indelible mark on me, especially those who have been dealt a weak hand.
 
I think of the students I met while volunteering at an area private and public school. This particular program helps students build stronger bridges with each other and identify some of the personal obstacles getting in their way. It’s a profoundly moving all-day retreat that allows kids to get real and deep with each other. You might think that the students of an elite college prep school have it all…but you would be mistaken. While sharing deeply from the heart, these kids either struggle from a lack of love and value shown to them at home or they face unbearable performance pressure from their parents and can never measure up. As their tears flowed, I kept wondering why their parents, who intentionally brought them into this world, had allowed it to come to this. 
 
My visit to the public school had a somewhat different cast, but the lack of a loving, healthy support structure for these kids was even more intense. Fatherlessness was a huge issue and you could instantly see the walls these kids have built. Initially “chilly” remarks of, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me” were later replaced with tears of pain. They don’t feel valued. They don’t feel listened to. And, they don’t feel understood. So, is it any wonder why some of them seek false comfort in the wrong places?
 
I left these retreats with a heavy heart and a strong personal desire to serve as their advocate. Ideas are already being formed, and you will be hearing about them in the coming year.  
 
Contrast this with our appearance at the FCCLA national conference  in Orlando. We exhibited our What I Wish I Knew at 18 leadership/life skills curriculum and spoke with countless advisors and students from around the country who were participating in contests and trainings. These students were engaging, confident, professional, and destined for leadership. In case any of you suffer from hopelessness about today’s younger generation, I’d invite you to attend an FCCLA conference! FCCLA is doing an amazing job in preparing young people to be tomorrow’s honorable leaders in their families and communities. Well done!
 
It made me wish that every young person could have this same sense of worth, hope, and confidence in themselves and their future.
 
I’ve often wondered whether America’s youth are indicative of the rest of the world. To my delight, I had many conversations with the young people of Indonesia this summer as I delivered my talk on “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow” at several schools. Perhaps because they’ve struggled more with poverty and have had to start working at a very early age, I found their questions deeper and more mature than from their American peers. They share many of the same interests and passions, but there was a noticeable difference in our conversations.
 
One that stood out was when a 16-year old boy approached me after my talk in Bali. I was alone on stage ready to leave for lunch when I saw him coming up the aisle. After arriving, he looked up and said, “Mr. Dennis, may I ask you a question?” 
 
“Sure,” I said, “What’s on your mind?” 
 
Then, totally heartfelt, he said, “Mr. Dennis, I’m not very smart in academics. But, can I still become a great leader?”

 
I’ll never forget this moment. For the next 15 minutes we talked about academics and leadership and how my book might serve as an encouragement to him. What courage and humility that he demonstrated! “Yes, by your actions, you’ve shown me you have what it takes to become a great leader,” I said. 
 
He looked up, and with a spirit of hope, said “Thank you, Mr. Dennis” and walked away.

 
I’ll never forget these conversations. While some were painful, many were hopeful. They renew my passion for today’s youth and young adults and for our mission to help them see a worthy vision for their lives.

 
So, as we develop our New Year’s resolutions, let’s all commit to the following with the young people in our lives:

  • To appreciate and honor them for their uniqueness and worth
  • To listen to them
  • To seek to understand them, even when we may not always agree

 
It’s a priceless gift that costs us nothing!
 
Merry Christmas from all of us at LifeSmart!