The difference between taking and receiving.

At a young age we were taught about the importance of giving, and hopefully, that has stuck with us as adults. We should still value giving, especially to people who have less than us, not just with material things, but intangible ones too.

How often though, do we give something because we want to get something? Or give because we think we owe, or feel obligated? Or abandon goodness altogether, and just take for selfish reasons?

And, here’s a question that will be tricky for some: do we give without receiving? There’s a balance that needs to be maintained for the ebb and flow of giving and receiving. If we mostly give, we’ll not only attract takers who connect with us for selfish reasons, we’ll also do a disservice to our good relationships. Without receiving, we deny others the ability to give and feel good about it.

So what’s the difference between taking and receiving? Receiving is a gift in itself. If we are gracious and appreciative to people who need to feel that they are contributing to our relationship, then we are not taking. Instead, we are giving them balance, independence, and confidence.

To gage how much to receive before it becomes taking, watch the giver’s face, read their body language, and empathetically listen. To help set boundaries if our generosity is enabling takers, ask for what we need in order to feel balanced. And if we are in the taker category, humbly start giving. Each relationship we have will vary, so we need to evaluate each situation separately.

Take action: Get more balanced when it comes to giving and receiving in your relationships. This action requires both parties to participate, and contribute, not 50/50, but appropriately for each. Trust your gut to gage what amount feels good. If one side is resisting, have a discussion and get on the same page before the next opportunity arises.

Inspired by Kabbalah.info’s article, Perceiving Reality: Giving and Receiving

Achievement needs fulfillment to be successful.

The science of achievement vs. the art of fulfillment…
Reaching goals and achievement is hard for sure, but it’s somewhat scientific, in that there are rules to follow. Whether in finance, health, relationships, career, or other areas, we can get the information required, and form the habits needed, to achieve what we’ve set out to do. Focus on the objective, take massive action, measure and tweak to stay on track, and model someone who’s already great at it. That’s the “science of achievement.”

More important than accomplishing, is the “art of fulfillment.” Achievement and fulfillment don’t always go hand in hand. Think of the late Robin Williams, an incredibly high achiever who still suffered. And there are plenty of examples of unhappy, but well accomplished people.

Fulfillment is an art that is particularly difficult for people who are high achievers because of their tendency to focus on measured, controllable outcomes.

Instead, if we focus on learning, how we are growing, and what we are contributing to others, while heading towards a goal, we’ll be more likely to enjoy both the process and the result. Fulfillment comes from knowing how to stay happy, even when things don’t go as hoped.

Take action: When goals appear to fall off the rails, recognize if you are in a suffering state of mind: frustration, anger, overwhelm, sadness, stress, etc. Allow the discomfort and process it, but for no more than 20 minutes. Then replace those thoughts and feelings with more fulfilled ones, such as happiness, love, awe, passion, and appreciation. Problems are better solved from a positive state of mind.

Inspired by Marie Forleo’s MarieTV episode with Tony Robbins: What it Really Takes to Change Your Life.

How do we be present? Ask the experts: children.

We once knew how to live in the now, be our whole selves, and be fulfilled. As children, we were masters of wonderment. We did not worry about what others thought, or about lacking, being less than perfect, or trying to achieve greatness, because we were already great.

We could literally stop and smell the roses, or be in awe of an ant carrying food to its home, without desperately trying to clear our minds of worry and be present. We were proud of who we were and wanted someone to watch every time we awkwardly learned a new skill.

We think as adults that we’re supposed to teach children the ways of the world, but what if it’s the other way round? What if children are here to teach us? We’ve set up a society that inhibits our true selves; it’s no longer appropriate to cry in public, dance in the middle of the street, make prolonged eye contact with a stranger, or run around naked on the beach.

Our parents taught us to be appropriate, and we now teach the next generation. So how as adults do we unlearn rules, and get back to freedom? We give up our power, our control, and our superiority, then ask a child to teach us.

Take action: It’s common to think that giving up control over children will instantly lead to chaos. Find a balance, try it for half an hour. Ask a child to show you how to play, or how to create, or how to imagine. Let them be the expert.

Inspired by Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s Oprah Supersoul Session, The Awakened Self

Make your personal goals a priority.

There is controversy over how to best set up a to-do list, or for that matter, if to have one at all. Here’s an approach that many highly successful people use.

The key is to start our list the day before, about midway through the day, when we are on top of things, but not exhausted. This list should start with only three important tasks, and one being the absolute, must-do priority.

The tasks should be achievable, broken down to take up to 45 minutes of our time, so not a complete goal, just steps towards our objective. Ensure that the tasks are in line with your values.

They should also be scheduled in, with a deadline, for example: “Contact key client by 10am.” Most of us work well to deadlines. We should try to accomplish our most important task first thing, before the daily emergencies kick in. Then, tackle the next two items that are significant to us. Only after our top three tasks are complete, should we consider the less important list items, or other people’s priorities.

Take action: It’s important to know what our own priorities are, as opposed to what other people want us to do. If you are not clear on your values and goals, or don’t have a vision for who you want to be, make that number one on your list.

Inspired by Jason Selk, Tom Barton and Matthew Rudy’s book, Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.

Small acts of defiance can keep us motivated.

To be self-motivated, we need a sense of control over our lives. Drive, determination, and willpower, come from linking our actions to our personal identity and the values that are meaningful specifically to us. Rebelling against society’s rules can actually help us achieve more. This allowance doesn’t mean we should hurt anyone, but since our values are unique, we’ll be more motivated if we take the authority to direct our own actions.

Creating a few ways to personalize a situation can trigger our “internal locus of control,” the sense that helps us define our lives, instead of unconsciously living within external confines. Having this autonomy can help us make better personal choices, which makes it easier to take action and follow through on our commitments.

For instance, if we manage a team at work, we may be told to host weekly status meetings. If we believe those meetings waste time, our motivation will wane. Instead of agreeing and procrastinating, if we committedly decide not to do it, we’ll be more motivated to find and regularly execute a more effective way to communicate status within our team.

Take action: What in your life have you been told to do, or that you are expected to do, that you can’t find the motivation for? Figure out the value that action is connected with, customize a way to achieve it effectively, and see if you stop procrastinating.

Inspired by Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.

Constructive thinking beats positive thinking.

Our attitude is the one thing in life we can fully control. We can be a victim of circumstances, or victorious over them, by choosing our own mental outlook. Our frame of mind can set us up for expectations of success, which leads us in that direction, and often comes to fruition. A positive disposition shows in our character, and attracts more of the same sort of people into our life.

However, many of us confuse “positive thinking” with “wishful thinking,” which ultimately is just a temporary mask covering our true thoughts and leaving us emotionally stuck.

The term “constructive thinking” may be more suitable, because it implies open mindedness and growth. We all have hardships in life, we can choose to manage them constructively, learn from them and grow mentally stronger. Constructive thinkers are aware of negativity, use it to assess and work through underlying problems, and then let it go when it’s no longer useful. They are careful about what they allow to manifest in their brain. They choose thoughts that build strength and lead to growth.

Take action. Everything that seems doom and gloom has an optimistic, hopeful and positive side to it as well. Definitely challenge yourself to find the sunny side, but also take the time necessary to deal with the negative feelings. Accept them, mentally process them, learn from them, and then let them go and get back to positivity.

Inspired by Hal Urban’s book, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things that Matter.

The pursuit of happiness can be the source of our unhappiness.

This tip brings up a lot to think about. It’s not a simple statement by any means. If we strive for happiness down the road, we could be missing out on the real happiness of the present. Of course we’ll continue to have goals to improve our future, but here are a few things we can do to better our current situation. 1. Be in the present. That doesn’t mean we don’t think of the future, but we need to cap it when it is no longer useful for us, and get back to what’s happening now. 2. Focus on the process instead of the result. We can’t always control results, but we have a great deal of steering power on the journey. 3. Be mindful. Awareness of the small things in the present can open up infinite possibilities. 4. Be grateful. Even if we’re at rock bottom we probably have a great deal in our life we can appreciate. 5. Create a happier path to our goal. Our achievements can be short-lived, but the journey to get there is long. It makes sense to put emphasis on the path, not just the goal.

Take action: The balance between striving for future happiness, and serenity in the present is a tricky one. If you’re one to say, “If only I won the lottery, then I’d be happy,” then it’s time to refocus. Meditation helps a lot of people with this quest, but if reflection is not for you, try a simple two-minute purposeful pause to come back to the present.


Inspired by Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-help that Actually Works – A True Story.

Use momentum to build resilience.

We all have mental battles to fight on our way through life’s journey, especially when it comes to sticking to new habits. If we know how we can win these battles physically, it can actually be a detriment, in that it can lead us to avoiding the mental training process. Going through the tough stuff makes us stronger because it builds our “fight-through” mindset. It teaches our brains which neurons to fire so that we will be prepared later, when we really need the strength. This discipline builds momentum every time we use it, making the next battle easier. Conversely, if we skip out, momentum works against us. Here’s an example many of us can relate to: a diet. We start it, and see some success, so know how we can physically keep going. But instead, we let that success trick us into thinking it’s OK to have just one, small cookie. Then we find the next time we’re faced with that cookie, it’s even harder to resist. It’s because we didn’t teach our brains how to enter that “fight-through” headspace in that area.

Take action: Just recognizing when you are in that “fight-through” phase can flip a switch so your brain goes into battle mode. Catch yourself when you say things like, “I’ll skip this today because I already…” or “I’ll do extra of that tomorrow since…”.

Inspired by Jason Selk, Tom Barton and Matthew Rudy’s book, Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.

Shift-tasking is the new multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking seems to be a requirement in society lately, but it only works well when the tasks we’re doing can acceptably be done less adequately, or are so habitual they can be done on auto-pilot. For instance, we can send a casual text while waiting in line for lunch. However, sending an important email, while out for lunch with colleagues, can lead to weird auto-correct typos and nasty looks from our hungry co-workers. We often think that we can quickly switch from one task to the next, and back again, but the mental energy those transitions require, adds up to a considerable amount of wasted time.

Instead of splitting our focus to juggle important duties somewhat simultaneously, it can be more effective to focus fully on one task for a period of time – for most people that’s about 45 minutes – then take a short break, and shift our brain power to focus fully on the second task for another 45-minute sprint. For example, we could choose to focus on emails for 45 minutes with no interruptions. Then quit our email application and take a physical and mental break, such as a simple stretch, or check off a 2-minute item from our to-do list, or perhaps pre-emptively connect with people who are likely to try to interrupt us later in the day. Next, get back in the productivity zone for the second undertaking.

Always leave a small period of time at the start and the end of an activity to shift focus. Sure, we’d all like to have days where we can concentrate on one responsibility without feeling pulled in many directions, but for many people’s time-crunched reality, shift-tasking is a solution that allows for focused productivity for a realistic amount of time, and that optimizes our brains for massive output.

Take action: Let your co-workers know you don’t want interruptions by putting out a “do not disturb” signal. If you can’t close a door, big headphones are a good sign (they can be silent, it’s a visual clue). And try using your phone as a countdown timer, setting it on your desk so people will know when you’re available again, without asking when they should come back.

Inspired by David DiSalvo’s book, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.

Captivate, by telling a gripping story.

As human beings, we are attracted to good stories because they are engaging, memorable, and they appeal to our emotional side. If we want to connect with someone, telling a compelling story will leave a lasting impression in both their head and their heart. Although there are numerous ways to tell a good story, there are some key aspects that are common to all approaches. Stories need a structure for the listener to follow – beginning, middle and end is most familiar. The beginning needs to give the context, or set the scene – when and where is the story taking place? It also introduces the character(s); often it’s ourselves, or we make the listener the hero. An important challenge or dilemma is presented here too. The middle part describes the main character’s journey through a struggle, and some sort of internal and/or external transformation during the challenge. The end resolves the challenge and the hero comes out with an emotion. That connecting sentiment could be victorious, disappointed, relieved, educated, confused, inspired, you name it. There are lots of tricks to enhance our stories too. We can incorporate an element of surprise, describe a relatable emotion, use humour, include a metaphor, add dialogue, express with gestures, display an illustrative prop, get super descriptive, and so on. Storytelling is an essential skill that builds instant rapport, and leaves a lasting impression.

Take action: If you know you’re heading into a situation where you’ll be meeting new people and want to quickly get past small talk, craft a couple stories ahead of time. Some thought starters: how you met your significant other, an experience you’ve had with a particular organization, a flubbed renovation, a funny misunderstanding, or something odd you noticed on your way to the event.

Inspired by Paul Smith’s book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire.