This week, like every week, my television has been full of stories about people doing bad things. Sometimes, it's labeled "News" and describes bombings and beatings, rapes and murders, riots and violence that has happened to real people—men, women and children like you and me—all over the world. Other times, it's called "Entertainment" and is a made-up story that someone invested time and money, energy, talent and skill to produce so we could watch it in our own homes. These are called "fiction" but I gather that the more life-like they seem, the more money they make.
I find that curious. To me, there is little doubt that human beings have some inherent potential for violence. We've been doing it a long time. Sigmund Freud thought hate was as much a part of the human psyche as love, and perhaps he was right. And, I can go along with the idea that some ability to use force to defend the innocent or to revolt against tyranny is a good thing. It's complicated, but I'm reminded of the quote, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing." If we do nothing in the face of evil, it seems to grow and get worse. I accept that.
But this week I was struck by two completely separate experiences that seemed to share the same contrarian message. I listened to an old Zig Ziglar audio that focused on "becoming the person you want to be." He said, "You have to BE before you can Do or Have." He suggested that we take a few minutes, every day, to focus on the qualities we want in our lives. He specifically suggested we focus on love, honesty, integrity, service, and so forth. He wasn't talking from a religious perspective. He was recommending it as a very practical way to achieve our goals and create the life we truly want.
Not one item on his list related to hate or violence! To become rich, he suggested we focus on serving others rather than on greed or deception. From a pragmatic, selfish perspective, he recommended a world of "Peace and Goodwill toward all." I found that interesting!
The second experience was re-reading Napoleon Hill's famous book, "Think and Grow Rich." I usually re-read it the first of each new year, and this week I noticed Hill's emphasis on obtaining the things we desire through service, cooperation, and creativity. Again, he's not writing from a religious perspective. He's simply analyzing how successful people got that way and says quite plainly that success comes from service and teamwork, rather than conniving or deception.
The bottom line for me is that while I can't directly do much about wars around the world or even the distrust and division in my own nation, I can make some fundamental decisions about what I allow in my home. And in my life.
I can watch violence, or turn it off. I can talk about it, think about it, worry about it, and live with it, or do my best to focus on more peaceful, positive, loving and creative things. So far, I haven't learned to do that perfectly. Maybe I never will. But I can try.
I love the John Lennon song, Imagine. See this video on Trans4mind! Imagine a world of peace and prosperity, a world of love, harmony, and acceptance. Imagine television shows that inspire or motivate, that make us laugh and teach us to be grateful. Imagine shows that encourage us to feel good about ourselves, to be better people and do better things.
Imagine a world where almost everyone, almost every day, looks for practical ways to make the world a better place.
This week, share a few smiles with folks who need them. Pick up a few pieces of litter or give a dollar to someone who needs it. It costs nothing to give a word of encouragement, a compliment, or just a friendly greeting to a stranger we pass on the street.
Who's in charge of your life?
I know it's a personal question, but it's also the most important question each of us must ask and answer. At the end of the year, there are always reminders to ask great questions and learn the lessons from the year just ended. And I think that's a wonderful thing!
There are key questions to ask about your professional and work life, and there are vital questions about our personal lives. This is the perfect time to ask questions about your values and spirituality, about the really BIG goals and dreams for your life. And, of course, there is no better time to deepen our connections with family and loved ones. Get in the spirit and take time to re-connect with others, and with yourself.
I urge you to schedule time to sit quietly and take inventory. Review your calendar for 2011 and notice how you spent your time. Review your checkbook and credit card statements, asking "Where did I actually spend my money this year?" Get our your goals from last January and see how you did. Celebrate your wins. And of course, take notes on the things you forgot or that fell by the wayside.
But in the end, the really vital, BIG questions are: "Where am I going?" And, "Who am I becoming?"
I'm an enthusiast for the slow, steady, long-term growth that happens on-purpose, over time. When we're clear about where we're going in life, choices get much easier. We live in a world of many distractions, multiple-choice questions and dilemmas. If we try to figure it all out on the run, life is just too hard!
But, when my values and priorities, my vision and purpose are clear—and I've clearly reminded myself of these things every morning!—then the day's events and struggles are much easier.
Here's a great truth: You are evolving. You are, inevitably, becoming something and someone new all the time. You are not the same person you were a year ago! You know stuff you didn't know back then. You have skills you didn't have a year ago. You've forgotten or ignored or gotten confused about things that used to be terrifically important! Over time, we evolve.
And, here's a second truth: It either happens by accident, or it happens on purpose, according to a plan.
Shape Your Evolution
You will evolve in 2012. You will learn new words, new ideas, new skills and new abilities. You will meet new people, read new books, watch new things. And they will all, slowly but surely, shape your life.
One of the keys to both external success and internal happiness is choosing (carefully!) the ways in which we evolve. Only humans can intentionally direct their own evolution. It's one of the most powerful tools we have! And yet only a tiny handful take advantage of it.
Most people carefully choose their goals each year. That's good! But, I hope you will be just as thoughtful about the "little things" that influence you more quietly, the things that fill your environment with hidden or subtle messages. Choose the radio station in your car. Choose the books on your coffee table. Choose the shows and movies you watch. Think about the people you associate with and listen to their words with a "third ear" that scrutinizes everything and asks, "Is this good for me?"
Your life will be shaped in powerful ways by the "stuff" that surrounds you every day, all year long. Choose well!
I am convinced that we are influenced far more than we know by our environment. When we watch stories filled with war and catastrophe, it frightens us. Many studies have shown that people who watch the most television are more fearful, more anxious and more stressed. The things we think about do shape our lives.
Fortunately, however, we can easily surround ourselves with art and literature, with interesting people and dynamic conversation. We can listen to the best music, and focus on opportunities, on our goals, and the people we love. We can surround ourselves with humor and encouragement, and once again, the things we think about will shape our lives.
My advice? Evolve on purpose! Make a list of the things you will add or expand, the things you'll learn and do, and the person you'll become in 2012.
In the end, while many people and events will influence us, we are in charge of our own evolution. There's no escaping it! Our daily choices teach us things. Whether we spend or save, whether we exercise or not, whether we read or nap, the time we spend with our loved ones and the time we spend at work—they all add up and shape our lives. We are in charge!
I encourage you to review your life and make clear choices about where you're going and who you will become. For many, you'll be doing this exercise again, one more time. But, as we all know, every time we focus on our values, set goals and make commitments, it's always, really, for the "first time." The person you are TODAY has never done this before, even if the person you were in the past did it many times. You are brand new! And the future is, for the most part, unknown.
Resolve to live your own life, to create the person and the future you truly want. Can you do it all at once? Probably not. That's not the way it usually works. But, can you do it over time? Of course! You are evolving and changing, growing and learning every day. And all of that is either the result of life's random events, or it's the result of the choices you make. Since change is inevitable, insist on living a life of Self-Directed Evolution. I think you'll like the results!