Monday, June 27, 2011

Your Life, Your Choice

According to Kevin Hogan, author of the definitive The Psychology of Persuasion, research shows that when people are provided with choices in their lives they feel more in control of their lives and their experiences.  However, when a goal is forced upon them, they are more likely to put less effort into the attainment of that goal, and to value the final result less.

Hmm... seems straight forward.  However, the implications are much more significant.  In my book, It's Time Now, Choose the Life you Really Want, I talk about the fact that often the dissatisfaction we feel with and in our lives is a direct result of living a life that others have chosen for us, rather than consciously living one of our own choosing.  The research that Kevin was referencing above supports this.  We are going to feel much more motivated to carry out and complete tasks and goals that we have set for ourselves than we are those that have been imposed on us. 

The equation is pretty simple then.  Want to feel better about your life?  Choose what you want from it and go after it.  In my Life and Career coaching though, I see people mess this equation up time and time again.  In our efforts to keep those around us happy, we get caught up in fulfilling their wants and needs, rather than our own, often leaving us with little time left to spend on moving ourselves forward in a direction of our choosing. 
  • parents think we should be a lawyer, even though we love the thought of teaching... so we go to law school
  • our boss feels that the next strategic career move for us would be to take on a role in sales, despite the fact that we prefer analysis... so we move into sales
  • our spouse wants to move into a house with a huge backyard, even though we hate gardening... so we move into the house with the big backyard
  • our family wants to go on a week long hiking trip, though we would prefer a vacation that pampers us and feels less like 'work'... so we go hiking
  • friends want to go out to opera, we'd prefer to go to a movie... we end up seeing opera
  • we feel like Italian, we end up eating Chinese...
Sure... we face compromises every day.  That's life.  We don't likely get our way all the time, but some of the time?  We should.  On the 'big life-changing' stuff?  We better.  Think for a moment how difficult it would be to live a life where none of your choices mattered, where none of your preferences counted, where nothing that mattered to you actually got done in your life?  Depressed even thinking about it?  Imagine the impact of living it.

Yet... some of us are doing just that.  We have compromised ourselves into living other people's choices, other people's definitions of 'a life'.  The bottom line though is that this is YOUR life.  YOUR choices, YOUR life.  Giving in to other peoples choices for us is living a life by default, but... and this is the big point... drumroll please... it is still a CHOICE.  And... it's your choice. 

You are choosing to sacrifice your wants, needs, hopes, satisfaction, happiness, esteem... to fulfill something for someone else.  They better be someone you really care about.  My question to you though... how much do they truly care about you if they allow this to continue, day after day, choice after choice?  And... really... how much do you care about you to allow it to continue, day after day, choice after choice?

Food for thought, isn't it?  Trying to please everyone around you will not, I repeat WILL NOT, ever, (never ever) make you happy.  Defining what you want from your life and making that happen, working to please you...  always will. 

Your life, your choices... choose consciously, choose wisely.. but CHOOSE!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Built to Last

I just returned from a 10 day trip to Italy in which I visited Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice.  As much as it was a wonderful environment in which to relax and unwind, those that know me well realize that I never totally divorce myself from my work.  I have the good fortune of having businesses that are fully integrated with and representative of who I am.  Therefore, my mind is always taking new experiences and applying them to my work.  I love what I do and it comes with me, no matter where I go!

I, along with thousands of others tourists, looked at, with awe and wonder, the famous sites of Rome (imagine seeing the Coliseum live, walking the same marble steps so many walked a thousand plus years ago), experiencing the Vatican, seeing the Sistene Chapel, in Florence seeing both Michelanglo's David, and Rembrandt's Portrait of an Old Man.  It's a seemingly endless list of experiences.  As I continued to layer new wonder upon new wonder, I couldn't help but marvel over not only the creativity, ingenuity and sheer intelligence of these historical figures but their commitment to creating and building legacies that would live on through generation after generation.

Additionally, I couldn't help but contrast this with our society's 'disposable' mentality.  I can understand technology that becomes obsolete due to new advances.  What I have difficulty in understanding though are manufacturers that deliberately build 'less' quality into their products in order to ensure an ongoing market.  They are capable of building better, but choose not to.  In viewing the Coliseum in Rome, there is clear evidence of the metal bars that were inserted into the stone walls to ensure that they were strong enough to not only support the weight of thousands of spectators, but to also ensure that the walls would withstand the ravages of weather and time.  They invested themselves fully in what they did, focusing on the longevity of their craft, dedicating themselves to leaving a legacy.

Although the Roman Empire itself did not survive, their legacy lives on.  How many of us, I wonder, have that same view or commitment?  In their book 'Built to Last', Jim Collins and Jerry Porras outline the results of their studies, summarizing just what elements help companies continue to be successful.  Not just what made them great, but what kept them on top.  This book became a bestseller because we have lost touch with what is needed to sustain greatness.  We have lost touch with what it means to produce quality.  We have lost touch with our commitment to delivering our best, rather than focusing on what it means to make a profit.  Certainly these two elements seem to be at odds more often than not and certainly it appears that the value of a dollar wins out.  One can't help to wonder though... at what cost?

As with all things, this commitment begins with each individual.  Consider the question... What is your legacy?  What do you represent and stand for, what messages will live on beyond you?  Your audience need not encompass the world, your messaging may extend out to include a much more narrow sphere around you, of people that you have reached, touched and influenced.  Regardless of the size of your sphere of influence, consider what legacy do you leave behind.  If your current legacy is not representational either of the authentic you, or of how you want to be remembered, begin taking steps now to create greater alignment between these elements.

A great exercise is to consider that you are attending your own funeral, listening to what others are saying about you, what they remember most about you.  Think about what you'd like to hear them saying and use this as a measure to guide the actions and behaviours you need engage in today to drive this result.

 Always keep in mind...
People are not as likely to remember what you said as they are to remember what you did.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Power of a Smile

In my Executive Presence seminars I always emphasize that a smile, given it’s one of the few truly universal facial gestures, is one of the strongest tools in your professional tool-kit. Researchers at Penn state have found that when you smile, you appear to others as instantly more likeable, courteous and competent. That small gesture has a significant impact on your credibility.

However, I rarely have the time to go into as much detail about the smile as research has found, all of which serve to highlight the benefits of the smile and build the case for smiling more. Hold on now though… because here we go!!

• Using 3D ultra-sound technology, we have found that babies smile in the womb. In fact, we are typically born smiling (until the cold of the outside world or a slap on the bottom bring us around!). Even babies born blind… smile!

• We typically smile to express joy and satisfaction. Interestingly, children can smile more than 400 times per day. However, smile research in adults finds that only one third of us smile more than 20 times per day, with none of us coming close the 400 smiles of childhood. Further, 14% of us smile less than 5 times per day. Little joy happening there!

• Studies that were conducted measuring the size of smiles in student’s yearbook photos with their later success in life found that the bigger the smile, the more successful they proved to be – more successful with their marriages, general well-being and were a greater inspiration to others.

• Other studies of –re 1950’s baseball player’s playing cards found that the span of their smiles predicted the span of their life. The bigger the smile, the longer the life (I kid you not!)

• The very act of smiling stimulates the brain’s reward function. Therefore the mere act of smiling increases our overall sense of happiness and well-being. For those of you that are chocoholics and rely on a piece of Godiva to help you feel better, research has found that one smile can generate the same level of positive brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate (forgive me if I would prefer to then combine the two and surround myself with smiling people while eating chocolate… but that’s just me!)

• Customer service personnel often place a mirror on their desk so that they can look at themselves while speaking to customers on the phone. Watching themselves as they talk serves as a reminder to smile more while talking to customers, because when you smile while speaking, it impacts the voice such that customers can ‘hear’ the smile, making the customer service representative sound warmer and more caring.

• Smiling can actually help to physically reduce the amount of stress inducing hormones in the body (dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol) while increasing the levels of mood enhancing hormones (like endorphins) and decrease your blood pressure. No drugs needed here!

• And, finally, studies have found that it is actually tremendously difficult for us to frown at someone who is smiling. The smile is evolutionarily contagious. It actually serves to suppress the control you have on your facial muscles, making it difficult to maintain a frown. The old adage ‘Smile and the world smiles with you’ is apparently more accurate than we may have believed to be true.
The smile is an integral part of your ability to connect with your audience, making you appear warmer, more attractive, caring, interested and engaging. Is it any wonder that laughter clinics are seeing a rise in their business. In a world where we are constantly pushed to succeed and exceed, it may be true that taking the time to relax and have a little fun along the way may be a secret success tool we have overlooked. As it turns out, laughter may be the best medicine after all!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Being 'Sticky' is a Good Thing!

For those that have worked with me, you know that I often steal (in the nicest possible way!) ideas from one discipline to apply to another. I think that you are able to learn lessons from almost anywhere and apply them to your own life and situation. Such is the case with the concept of 'stickiness'.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote his definitive book TheTipping Point. (for those that haven't read this yet - and you should! - I've provided the link below). It was in this book that he first introduced us to the concept of The Stickiness Factor, which was one of the key determinants of whether an innovation would 'tip', would become an overwhelming success.

This concept rang a bell with the brothers Heath (Chip and Dan) who were busy investigating a different phenomena. They were trying to determine the specific elements that made ideas memorable. They then went on to publish their book... Made to Stick. Although both of these works focused on making ideas or products sticky, I think there are strong messages concerning what makes your own personal brand sticky as well. What makes you memorable?

Chip and Dan Heath define 6 basic characteristics of sticky ideas. Let's take a look at each and see how they might relate to your developing a strong and memorable brand.

Sticky Principle 1 - Simplicity

An idea must be both simple and profound for others to not just remember it, but to want to remember it. Your brand message needs to also be simple. Too many people try to highlight everything they are and bring to the table, which tends to dilute their message and decrease their memorability. Instead, focus on two or three key elements that truly define you and build your brand around those. These are those messages that you want to be top of mind with your associates and audience whenever they think of you. The more consistent these are across circumstances and audiences, the stronger your branded message.

Sticky Principle 2 - Unexpectedness

Ideas need to generate interest and curiosity, in order for them to endure. So do you. Although you don't want to build your brand around the 100 or so skills and abilities you have, you do want your audience to recognize that you are more than just your overall branded message. You need them to be curious about you, to want to learn more about you. The better you are around driving this interest the stronger and stickier your brand.

Sticky Principle 3 - Concreteness

The stickiest ideas tend to be those that are made clear through the use of concrete images; descriptions that help your audience to clearly identify and relate to the message. Ensure that your brand is clear. Don't fill your description of who you are with so much jargon that your audience is left wondering. You want them to remember it, not run from it! Use analogies, metaphors, and twists on proverbs if they help to provide the clarity your audience needs to understand exactly who you are, what you do and what you stand for.

Sticky Principle 4 - Credibility

To make an idea sticky, it often requires credibility. It might not be sticky just because you say so, but having an expert say so is enough to tip it over the edge. Consider then, how important it might be to have others selling your brand for you, rather than yours being the only voice speaking to your value. This is the benefit of focusing your brand on two or three key elements. Creating a strong branded message means that your audience is clear about what you represent. As a result, they are more likely to speak up on your behalf, share with others what you represent. Although it is often necessary for you to toot your horn, it is much more powerful to get others to do it for you.

Sticky Principle 5 - Emotions

We know that if we are to win people over to our ideas that we need to get them to feel something. So too with our personal brand. If we can present ourselves and our brand in a way that helps our audience to relate and connect to us, then we will definitely be remembered (and more favorably!) than those that don't. Make sure that you have your audience in mind when you are crafting and, in particular, delivering your message. Always be clear about how you want the other party to respond to and feel about your message. This will determine how you need to present it, in order to evoke those reactions and responses.

Sticky Principle 6 - Stories

Stories have proven to be a great tool to help drive people to action. Great presenters use stories to help draw their audience into their presentation and to make their ideas more memorable. Great marketers use stories to help people relate to their products and to help potential customers remember what their product does. If we want that same experience, we are driven to purchase their product. When it comes to your brand, you too can use stories to help your audience to understand not just what you do but, especially, what you can do for them. In addition, stories are repeatable. We have been retelling stories we have been told since we were children. Sharing a story about yourself gives your audience something that they can immediately connect to and restate, making them marketing ambassadors for you, helping to extend your brand message.

There you have it; six simple but sticky ideas to help you to stand out and be more memorable. Apply them and, like in their commercials, your clients won’t just be stuck on band-aids… they’ll be stuck on you!