Have you ever wondered how it’s possible that so many people want so much from their lives, yet most people spend their entire lifetimes unfulfilled? Why does mediocrity abound? What holds us back?
For many, it’s a lack of confidence. For some, it’s a lack of persistence or drive. For others, it’s a lack of imagination or creativity. Then there are those who live in mediocrity because their goals are not clear, written, and specific, while others are held back by their excuses and other self-defeating and self-sabotaging ego defense mechanisms.
The list could go on, but the major cause of mediocrity is much more basic and much more real. It’s fear. Not the fear of failure, as many would guess, but the fear of what others will think, say, or do—the fear of criticism—the most common weakness of all human beings. Paralyzing and inhibiting, the fear of criticism can turn life into a “hell on earth” by sapping us of our energy, creativity, and enthusiasm.
Think about it. This fear so pervades our “psychology of being” that the majority of the population is stuck wallowing in mediocrity…afraid to pay the penalty of leadership. And there is a penalty. Leaders, by stepping out in front of the pack and making things happen, make good targets, because they are easy to spot. Also, because of their position of power, they are often envied, resented, and attacked.
The upshot and downside of all this is that in order to avoid criticism and escape the responsibilities of leadership, too many fear-motivated people are turning to a “say nothing, do nothing, be nothing” philosophy of life. Their coping attitudes are “don’t take chances,” “don’t rock the boat,” “don’t stick your neck out,” and “let sleeping dogs lie.” With these attitudes they unwittingly relegate themselves to living in familiar and comfortable ruts, unaware that ruts are like graves with the ends kicked out. In knee-jerk fashion, these individuals become consumed in seeking ways to avoid risk, change, and challenge, because making mistakes, being different, or trying something new is an open invitation to the critical judgment, faultfinding, and censure of all who observe.
What this means, unfortunately, is that in their desperate need to please everyone and avoid criticism, fear-motivated people are willing to forsake their higher needs by placing a greater value on gaining the acceptance and approval of others than on being uniquely and expressly themselves.
Why, though, are they willing to pay such a price?
I believe it’s because they are hung up on the third rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—the need to belong—to be a member of the group, organization, or subculture. They simply have not yet gained sufficient self-acceptance and self-approval to be assertive without being aggressive; to be open and vulnerable without being neurotically defensive, or to be seen as different without being defiant, rebellious, or indignantly self-righteous.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s now take a look at four suggestions to help you transcend the third rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Here are some ideas to help you strengthen your resolve whenever you’re bombarded with criticism or threatened with rejection:
1. Reduce your vulnerability and sensitivity to negative feedback by regularly taking time out to affirm your uniqueness and sense of identity. (read Being Unique vs. Feeling Unique)
2. Keep in mind that in the long run it often costs more to avoid criticism than it does to confront or accept it, evidenced by the fact that we treat cover-ups worse than the offense.
3. Engage in some visualization exercises. Imagine yourself uninhibited by the fear of criticism and see yourself living life’s most exciting possibilities.
4. Keep in mind that although bucking the crowd may seem emotionally risky, you’ll find that if you come from your heart, there will always be a few people who do understand and accept you. Be aware also that it matters not that these relationships may be few in quantity, but, if they are built on a foundation of trust and understanding, these relationships will not only survive all the superficial ties to the group but, in the end, they’ll enhance the quality of your life beyond measurement.
Ultimately, then, it's the individuals who can handle criticism and pay the “penalty of leadership” who have the best of both worlds, because these individuals not only have the opportunity to belong, but they also have the strength and freedom to stand alone, if need be.
So remember, whatever you do, don’t hold back out of fear. Run some risks, rock some boats, and rattle a few cages. You may not win an award as a professional people pleaser, but you won’t die with this on your tombstone, by Paul J. Meyer: “Here lies John Averageman and Mary Mediocre. Lived sixty-five years without goals, plans, desires, confidence, or determination. Their favorite books were Non-Involvement and The Story of Playing It Safe. They tried never to try; they asked little of life, and life paid their price.”
The message is clear: Untether yourself from the fear of criticism and unleash your unlimited and untapped potential. Be a leader, take a stand, rise to the occasion, and make something great happen! Why not?
PPPS. Credit Success Motivation Institute & Paul J. Meyer with some of the wording and phrases. I internalized them, a zillion years ago, while marketing their motivational, life-changing products.
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Being Unique vs. Feeling Unique
An article by Mel Solon
Have you ever been told you’re unique? How did it make you feel?
The fact is, most people take this compliment with a grain of salt, after all, we’re all children of God, we’re all unique. So, how much of a compliment is it to be told you’re unique since it’s a label that applies to everyone?
Okay, it’s a given, you’re unique. Even your thumbprint is unique. The question, however, is how unique do you feel, and does it matter?
I think it matters a lot because your answer to this question plays a major roll in how you feel about yourself...your self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. It also can affect the quality of your interpersonal relationships.
I contend that most people don’t really appreciate how truly unique they are, otherwise, there wouldn’t be such an inclination for people to compare themselves to others, whether it be their looks, body, clothes, wealth, status, intelligence, or competence.
In making such self-defeating, irrational comparisons, they conclude they are either better than or less than. This kind of thinking unfortunately, and inescapably leads to feelings of either superiority or inferiority, neither of which is an admirable character trait.
The need to feel superior to another person ultimately springs from deep-seated feelings of insecurity.
Why is it important to understand this premise?
For one, in my opinion, superiority feelings are often at the root of bullying, so topical nowadays. Further, I believe inferiority feelings are often tied to teenage depression and suicide, another newsworthy topic. Unfortunately, the habit of comparing ourselves to others applies not only to our youth but in more subtle ways, it can apply to adults, as well.
Regarding feeling superior, a Hindu proverb states, “There’s nothing noble in being superior to another person, true nobility lies in being superior to your previous self.”
I’ve also learned that an ego problem is simply the exaggerated concern with proving one’s uniqueness or greatness, whereas all that is necessary is the simple recognition, respect, and appreciation for one’s own innate and unique awareness.
An egotist, incidentally, is not someone who thinks too much of himself, but too little of other people and humility doesn’t mean putting yourself down or feeling insignificant, it means appreciating the inherent importance, uniqueness, and greatness of others.
Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent or approval.”
Back to the question, just how truly unique are you, and how deeply unique do you feel?
Before answering, consider these mathematical facts involving variables.
One, the odds of matching 7 lottery numbers out of 49 possibilities is over 85 million to one.
Two, a social security number using 9 digits can produce one billion possibilities.
Three, there are more possible moves in a chess game, played on 64 squares with 32 pieces, than there are atoms in the universe.
Now ask yourself, how many variables go into the development of one’s mind?
In contemplating the answer to this question, consider that no two people who have ever lived have the exact same family, educational, social, political, religious, economic, cultural, racial, time or place background. Not even identical twins.
This means no two people have the exact same psychological, philosophical, and spiritual perspectives on life. They are the product of different past experiences, positive and negative. In short, no two people think in exactly the same way.
As a result, they have different wants, needs, and preferences; different fears, doubts, and worries; different loves, hates, and prejudices.
At the risk of overkill, they have different goals, dreams, hopes, and wishes, different desires, plans, and aspirations, as well as different habits and attitudes, and different potentialities and capacities.
The list could go on.
Given the immeasurable number of variables that comprise one’s unique awareness, what are the odds of finding a duplicate of you?
To answer, consider that your brain is comprised of 100 billion neurons. Although 100 billion is a large number, it is nevertheless a finite number. How then can we say our potential is infinite or unlimited?
This is true because each neuron has a network of thousands of synapses and dendrites that allow it to communicate with other neurons through thousands of pathways.
This understanding leads to the conclusion that the number of permutations and combinations of creative possibilities in your brain is the number 2 x itself 10 trillion times. It's a number so large, it exceeds the number of elementary protons and neutrons in the universe, plus all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.
To put it another way, consider that however complex a computer chip is, our brains are still infinitely more complex than all the computers in the world linked and networked together with all the telephone lines in the world.
Mathematically, the message is clear, your mind is infinitely unique among all the people who have ever lived and ever will. In short, your potential for original, unique, and creative thought is immeasurable and incomprehensible.
Given our differences, is it not a wonder that any relationships survive? It takes work, compromise, and a lot of forgiveness to reconcile the differences. It takes tolerance for conflict and a lot of flexibility. Our goal then is to learn to accept and appreciate ourselves and others not in spite of our differences but because of them.
To avoid the jealousy, insecurity, and possessiveness that ruins so many relationships, remind yourself that you are a unique and special human being. You cannot be duplicated or replicated, you are truly irreplaceable, even if not totally indispensable.
Your sense of self-worth, then, is inherent in your understanding and appreciation of your uniqueness and your God-given, unlimited and untapped creative potential.
So, believe in yourself. Love your uniqueness. You have a special contribution to make to the world, and, if not to the world, to those you touch and those who love you. Trust your creative potential to find solutions to any problem you encounter. And remember this quote, attributed to Jesus, “When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this one thing, you haven’t.”
Bless you and may the thinker’s edge always be with you.
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Instant Coffee & Pyramids
An Article by Mel Solon
Instant coffee, instant soup, TV dinners, and microwave ovens—each an attempt to save and preserve our most precious asset—time! Time to smell the roses…time to love.
Yet, in spite of an endless array of modern time-saving technologies, most of us still feel that time is running out or rushing by. So we hurry and the anxiety continues to grow. In a frenzy, we hurry to enjoy ourselves, to be there now, and then wonder upon arrival, what’s more important, the journey or the destination?
It’s as though we don’t really accept the fact that life is a process, a journey to be lived one day at a time. Our problem, though, is not time. Our problem is our attitude about time, and our attitude is called impatience.
How is it we’ve learned so little of patience? Were we not all taught that patience is a virtue and its own reward, or that "the secret to great success is knowing how to wait"? Maybe our impatience is just a reflection of the times, with our emphasis on ends over means.
The fact is, patience is the cement with which the great pyramids of ancient Egypt were built—pyramids forty stories tall with wide bases—pyramids that have withstood the test of time.
How simple a premise. Patience and base-building…the slow, secure way to success, riches, and outstanding achievements, whether in the arts and sciences, in business, education, or politics, or any other field of endeavor. Witness the patience of our Olympic athletes as they train with dedication for ten years to run just ten seconds.
Patience, then, is the name of the game. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” nor is it likely that anything of substance or enduring value will be created from scratch in any less time.
But who has the patience to wait? After all, isn’t life too short not to take shortcuts? Impatiently, then, we proceed en masse to build one-dimensional, paper pyramids, in a desperate attempt to achieve instant success and fulfillment, without having to suffer the slow, plodding, meaningless journey. We build our paper pyramids and then watch them crumble and fall like a house of cards, enduring no longer than the patience and persistence of the builders themselves.
The point is timeless, persistence without patience causes anxiety, while patience without persistence yields futility. But combine patience with persistence and the result is a power that, when harnessed over time, can topple despotic governments, bring down walls that divide us, and change the destiny of the world, all with the appearance of happening overnight.
And so, too, with patience and time, the mulberry leaf becomes silk, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, an organization becomes an institution, and dreams become realities.
In the final analysis,patience, at its roots, is really little more than a demonstration of faith; so God, grant me patience, and I want itNOW!For those of you who say you have no time to think or that you're too busy, too anxious, or too stressed to think, then it's definitely time to think. And what better way to do so than to download
The Mighty Mind Expander at thethinkingplace.com. Listen to this comprehensive and condensed, 90-minute, audio, mini-seminar, broken into 6 bite-size segments, and think about your life, calmly and proactively, the perfect solution for dealing effectively with the stressors of our times. We call it musings for the thinking class; wisdom for minds that matter. See the testimonials at the bottom ofthethinkingplace.com.
Quotes on Impatience
The first three quotes, screened and filtered, are found in our book — Quotations To Help You — From Out of Their Minds. They represent 3 of 60 quotations on patience collected during my past 40-plus years in the self-development field. The fourth quote, by TY-Thoughtfully Yours, will be in a future edition. For an audio/video presentation on our book, click here.
“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” —Saint Augustine
“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.”—Dutch Proverb
“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” —Barbara Johnson
“Personal experience has taught me that my impatience has been more responsible for the errors, mistakes, do-overs, and bad decisions in my life than my ignorance, immaturity, or inexperience.”—TY
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The Upside of Selfishness
An article by Mel Solon
Does the pursuit of your own personal goals ever make you feel selfish or guilty?
Unless you’re a saint, I’m guessing your answer is yes.
On the other hand, some people no longer feel guilty because they feel they’ve spent their lives living for others and then they were gone, and now they have nothing to show for their selflessness.
In either case, to help you rethink this question, ask yourself the following:
Are people basically altruistic or basically selfish?
From my perspective, I believe the reason many people are conflicted is that they don’t understand that while people are basically selfish, they are also basically good. These concepts are not mutually exclusive. Not understanding this causes cognitive dissonance, a psychological term meaning the mental discomfort or psychological stress experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time.
To help you resolve this problem, I think it’s important, first, to understand that being selfish is part of your intrinsic nature. No one does anything for nothing, or for no reason. Many people find this hard to accept. After all, who wants to be seen as selfish? But, stay with me, especially if you believe you don’t have a selfish bone in your body.
After I support the premise that people are basically selfish, I will address your dissonance. But first, I want to concede that it's generally agreed that altruism and unselfishness are positive traits. We're especially impressed with people who help others who can never repay them, or give anonymously without expectation of receiving credit for their good deeds, their giving nature, or selfless acts. Such behavior is impressive for the very fact that it is not commonplace. While selfishness, on the other hand, is typically seen as a negative trait, I believe it sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap.
Some people are so averse to being called selfish, they will, on behalf of others, compromise their financial security, their need for sleep, or even impair their personal health to avoid the label. In many cases, this may prevent them from being truly helpful to anyone else. The message...take care of yourself first so that you’re in a position to help others. On airplanes, in an emergency, passengers are instructed to put their oxygen masks on themselves first, even before their children.
With the preceding as a backdrop, I contend that even though a given behavior may appear to be totally unselfish, the key word being total, there is, in my view, always some element of selfishness, meaning some personal motivation, at its core.
Before you disagree, ask yourself this: Would you do a favor for someone, expecting nothing in return, if being helpful didn’t make you feel good about yourself?
In the same vein, is giving to a charity or being a good Samaritan, even if at personal risk, an example of selfless behavior? What if such actions are motivated by a selfish desire to feel valuable or appreciated? What if it’s to be seen in the eyes of one's significant others as an angel or a saint? One more, what if one’s behavior is motivated by a desire to experience a heightened sense of meaning and purpose, for example, doctors without borders? Can such behaviors, given these personal, emotional benefits, be considered totally altruistic, selfless, or unselfish? I think not.
Psychological and spiritual rewards can also explain why people are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, their children, or even a stranger. Could it be to die as a hero, to give their lives meaning, or maybe it’s to look good in the eyes of God? Consider the suicide bomber. What’s in for him? Only sometimes is it money for his family.
Even when selfless behavior is motivated out of a sense of duty, obligation, or guilt, it is still, to some degree, affected consciously or unconsciously by one’s own selfish desire to live according to one’s own principles, beliefs, and values, such as “do the right thing,” or do the thing that’s hard to do when confronted with an ethical dilemma. These values are your personal motivators, and the benefits you derive from living by them, beyond money, fame, or power, can be emotional, psychological, or spiritual. This includes your selfish desire to think well of yourself.
A quick aside. Keep this thought in mind: if you believe your altruistic behavior is totally unselfish, meaning that your actions impart no personal benefit to you or your psyche, you may become resentful when your good nature is not sufficiently appreciated. If such is the case, you may not be as altruistic as you think you are, and your gift is only a loan until repaid.
Do not misunderstand me. I'm not advocating selfishness. I'm simply saying that being selfish is part of our nature, it’s not a bad thing, that is, unless it leads to a disregard for the valid and healthy needs of others.
The real problem arises when our selfish needs conflict with the selfish needs of others. “Aye, there’s the rub.” How many times have you been told that you’re being selfish and you were inclined to say, “Yes I am and so are you. You want what you want at my expense?”
How do you handle a situation where your family wants more of your time, but your time devoted to your business is critical to providing for your family?
The solution to this dilemma is simple. It’s about compromise, tradeoffs, and happy mediums. It’s about finding balance and/or convincing them that they too will benefit from helping you get what you want. If you can’t make this point, maybe you should feel guilty. If you can convince them, you will both feel good about yourselves and your solutions. Note that not all negotiations are zero-sum transactions.
My message is this. By focusing on you and your selfish desire to improve and take care of yourself, you will become a better role model and more capable of being of genuine service to others. This is sometimes referred to as enlightened self-interest. As the Bible says, “It’s more blessed to give than receive,” and better yet to be in a position to be able to give.
So, give of yourself…your time, energy, or money, and enjoy the emotional and personal rewards for doing good and needing little in return.
In closing, consider this mind-bender: Imagine what would happen if everyone were selfless and made everyone else's business and self-interests their business? Hmm?
"It has been said that we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind up the wounds of the man beaten by thieves…because we receive ourselves pleasure from these acts." —Thomas Jefferson
"A man is called selfish, not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbors." —Richard Whately