Two Magical Words for Leaders and Listeners: “Say More”

Here’s a secret about human beings:  In most situations they don’t share everything they believe or know or worry over, regardless of the topic.  They dip metaphorical toes in the water to gauge how their opinions or perspectives will be received.  In this sense, most of us are politicians of a sort, polling our audiences as we go along.  If the data—in listeners’ eyes or gestures—seem to be disconcerting, we often opt for the seeming safety of silence.

This is a huge loss—for the person speaking, but also for those listening.  Because very often the most creative, cutting edge thoughts are the ones that initially don’t bring reassuring smiles and nods from those we share them with.  They may be greeted with skepticism or even a bit of shock.

That’s why leaders and any true listeners would do well to arm themselves with two words:  “Say more.”  These seven letters are magical.  Use them whenever you have a gut feeling that someone is holding back on sharing his or her complete idea or next thought.  Couple them with eye contact and a reassuring nod, and you can make most people—even those with heightened political sensibilities—dig more deeply into what they feel and believe and actually speak about it.

This is no small thing.  I believe the unspoken thoughts of human beings engaged in relationships or working on projects together or vetting others’ ideas represent one of the greatest losses of human potential there is.

Say more triggers predictable feelings in the person who has just spoken—but only part of what he or she really has to say.  That person is likely to feel valued.  That person is likely to feel emboldened.  And that person isn’t likely to soon forget the experience of being asked for “more.”

That’ the other lasting benefit of a say more corporate culture or family culture or relationship (of any kind) culture.  Once you embrace it and deploy it, it can change people—sometimes, forever.

That’s a lot of oomph from two words.  Try them out.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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THE SUPER-EMPOWERING EFFECT OF SELF-DISCLOSURE

If I were to gift you one insight that might empower you most of all it would be this:  The idea that you must hide the trouble you have lived through in life is the ultimate paper tiger.  In fact, the fear of self-disclosure may be the most damaging psychological scourge there is.

I say this because most anything you hide out of a fear of being judged or humiliated will keep you on the run, weaken you, exhaust you and convince you, unconsciously, that you are unworthy of acceptance and love.  To the contrary, when you can speak of those things that you have believed are “unspeakable,” you become more powerful than those things.  You no longer have to waste energy burying them because they are out in the open.  You have taken a massive step toward overcoming them and refusing to be negatively defined by them.

You’re the most important person listening when you reveal that you were bullied as a kid, or that your household was one in which you suffered emotional injuries, or that you faced learning challenges, or that you made mistakes earlier in life, or that you wish you had been a better sister or brother or friend or parent or son or daughter or wife or husband.  When you hear yourself reveal these things they become part of the narrative you have overcome or are in the process of overcoming.  You, the author of the next pages of your autobiography, become, by definition, a far more courageous and compassionate writer.

You are not the only one listening when you reveal parts of your life story that initially plead to be kept secret.  Others are moved by your honesty.  They understand, at a gut level, that you are someone who is introspective, someone who understands what it is to suffer and what it takes to overcome.  Far from running in the other direction, people of quality will gravitate toward you.  You will become, in a sense, anointed as a person of empathy because you are not presenting yourself as invulnerable or above the fray.

Once you begin to disclose more about yourSELF, you shouldn’t be surprised if others do the same—sharing their truth with you.  You’ll have far more access to their realities, not their “images.”  You can connect with them at a more basic, human, meaningful level.

What is it about you or your life that you tend not to want others to know?  Consider whether beginning to reveal it will relieve you of feelings of self-doubt and self-reproach. Consider whether beginning to reveal it will begin to convince you that you are greater than that which you have suffered and survived.  I promise you that you are.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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Three Things to Do Today to Develop a Strong Outlook

Mindset matters.  Everyone knows this who has competed in a sport or simply attempted to complete a long distance run or walk for the sheer self-satisfaction of it.  When we begin such efforts we envision the goal we need to achieve, fix it in our minds and commit to it.  Few would doubt that envisioning success and telling oneself, “There is no alternative to finishing this marathon,” is far more likely to result in success than telling oneself, “I hope I can finish.  We’ll see.”

The fact that most of us agree that mindset matters may seem mundane, but it is actually a miracle.  It means that the outcomes of many events are within our control—at least to an extent.  We can think ourselves toward success or think ourselves toward failure.

In working with thousands of people to strengthen their outlook, I have learned some specific elements of mindset that can work wonders.  If you decide to deploy them today, then I believe you will feel more empowered almost instantly.

 

1- Remind yourself that you are “merely” a conduit for the intentions of God or the universe.

Your heartfelt creative ideas—whether as an artist or entrepreneur or CEO or teacher—are the product of the entire creative energy of the universe, as received uniquely by you.  The way you express these ideas depends on your commitment and strategy.  But take a few moments today to simply appreciate the fact that the creative goals you cherish are “meant to happen.”  You are feeling and serving an authentic impulse.

 

2- Remind yourself that the path to success is not a straight line.

It takes unexpected turns.  It zigs and zags.  It stops short, then starts anew.  Focus on your destination, but resolve not to be done in by the inevitable detours.  Persistence in the face of adversity is the antidote to anxiety and self-doubt.

 

3- Remind yourself that the future defines the past, not the other way around.

You can’t judge today’s value or importance or, in many instances, even its positive value or negative impact without data from tomorrow.  That’s because what you are living through right now—even if very painful—may well be seen, in retrospect, as the painful part of a triumphant journey.  Don’t pre-judge the intentions of God or the Universe.  Let the jury “stay out” as to the verdict about whether what you are experiencing is ultimately “worth it.”  Remember, the Hebrews wandered the desert for 40 years before arriving at the Promised Land.  Their arrival defined those years in the desert as well worth it.  And they always were, even when the Hebrews themselves doubted it.

These three elements of mindset are a kind of “kit” that can take you from anxiety toward certainty and from self-doubt toward SELF-reliance (which is synonymous with reliance on Truth, God or the Universe, as you choose).

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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FEELING LOST IS THE BEGINNING OF FINDING YOURSELF

Almost all of us live at some distance from the painful truths about our lives, sometimes going to great lengths to continue avoiding them.  To the extent that we do, we actually diminish ourselves.

To find the self-esteem we need to live full lives, we have to look back to when and how we were deprived of it.  To find the self-confidence we need to pursue paths that truly interest us in life, we need to determine what we lived through that temporarily eroded that self-confidence.

In truth, our pain is the source of our power.  Dig deeply enough to find the roots of what is limiting you, and you will have done the lion’s share of ridding yourself of those limitations.  That’s one of the core principles of Pain-2-Power.

Robert Frost put it this way:

Something we were withholding made us weak

Until we found that it was ourselves

 

Feeling lost or unmotivated or without professional passion is actually an internal alarm system to find oneself.  And there are two elemental truths that can help give you confidence to undertake that journey:

  • The journey never fails when properly undertaken.
  • The journey never ends without finding oneSELF, because that self is eternal.

Too many people believe that embarking on a quest of self-discovery might yield no benefit—that they will actually get lost in the twists and turns of a maze as they journey into the earlier chapters of their lives.  But our life stories are not mazes.  They are labyrinths.  Labyrinths always end at the center.  Sure, they may take unexpected turns that seem to be leading further away, but just keep walking and you’ll find out otherwise—sometimes all of a sudden, as the path takes a sudden turn in a much-needed direction.

People also sometimes worry that they could come to the center of the labyrinth and find that there is only quicksand there, or a black hole—that they have no core self, after all.  I promise you that this is never, ever the case.  Each of us is solid at core.  Each of us has an eternal self waiting to be discovered.  And that self is the source of our greatest abilities, our truest capacity to love and our greatest potential to share our gifts with others.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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Being Your Own Co-Pilot

Okay, this may sound a bit strange, but you can be your own co-pilot.  Don’t try this at 30,000 feet in the air.  It’s for when your feet are on the ground.

What I mean by being your own co-pilot is that—when encountering anxiety or any “negative” emotion—you can actually talk yourself through the turbulence.

How is that possible?  It is possible because the human mind has creative capacities that can be activated to compartmentalize negative emotions.

To do this, you have to personify these negative emotions and actually imagine them as separate from you. You may even want to give them a name.  Say your name is Nancy.  Maybe you “personify” r the part of you that seems shaken by unexpected challenges at work by giving it the name “Nervous Nancy,” or “NN” for short.

The next step is counterintuitive, but can be very powerful.  You literally talk to the part of you that is worried or nervous or shaken, as though you are that person’s co-pilot in life.  It may feel peculiar at first, but just at first.

Here’s an example:

“Listen, NN, I understand what you’re feeling.  Our job description is changing, and changes here at work always worry you—a lot.  I know, but we’ve got this.  I think half the problem is that unexpected changes remind you of when dad got sick back when we were in high school.  Everything changed, right?  It was really hard.”

Again, this technique might seem stilted or clumsy, initially, but I promise that if you make a bit of a habit of it, you’ll get used to it—and find it extremely useful.  It can be used to talk yourself down from anxiety or anger, to provide yourself with encouragement to pursue big goals, to avoid procrastination and to achieve power over many other parts of you that would, otherwise, diminish the whole of you.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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WILLINGLY PAYING A PRICE FOR THE TRUTH

When you start telling the truth within a business, a family, in a romantic relationship or within any community, you may find that others resist it.  I have seen dedicated executives fired for questioning the party line in companies that are headed for financial disaster.  I have seen family members become angry at, poke fun at and ostracize the “truth teller.”  I have seen mothers and fathers cease all communication with their children when those children stop settling for disabling family fictions and finally face the real, painful, and ultimately freeing facts of their life stories.  I have seen husbands file for divorce rather than embrace the opportunity to enrich their marriages when their wives insist on honest communication (and vice versa).

In one case, a very large company fired my client, who was the CEO, insisting that his concerns weren’t merited.  They ended up hiring him back to make the changes he had suggested, but only after their stock price plummeted by 80 percent over 18 months.

However, I have also seen businesses turned around after heeding the warnings of one executive who identified a fault line in the business strategy.  I have seen friendships deepen dramatically.  I have seen family members begin to relate to one another in stronger, more genuine ways.  I have seen marriages revitalized.

Keep this at the front of your mind:  whether you are embraced or isolated for telling the truth, the price is always lower than the cost of running from that truth.  Shared fictions—within families or among friends or in businesses—are false, temporary comforts.  The emotional toll of avoiding reality only gets steeper over time.  And the last thing you can afford to lose is your authenticity, yourSELF.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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What Part of Your Life Story Are You Really Writing Today?

We human beings sometimes devote 100 percent of our attention to what we consider the reality unfolding in front of us—the day-to-day events that occupy our time.  Did we complete a task?  What are the results of the efforts we put forward yesterday or a week ago or a month ago?  What should happen next to ensure success?

We think we know the precise narrative we are part of at any instant.  We think we know the “page” of our life story we are “penning.”  But there is another, deeper level of narrative unfolding that we should pause to consider—if only to note that we really can’t know precisely how our activities and experiences today are setting the stage for what will unfold for us in the future.  We can’t know how the threads of intention we manifest today will be woven into parts of our stories many chapters from now.  That level of narrative is fueled by immeasurable forces of connection between people and is part of a very real spiritual dimension to our lives.

I can share an example of pausing to witness this spiritual dimension in my own life.  Several years ago, Glenn Beck and I decided to write a book together.  It was called The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life. When Glenn and I first got together to talk about the content, he paused after just a few minutes.  “I wonder what we’re really working on, in the end,” he said.

“Well, I hope a New York Times bestseller,” I said, with a smile.  But I knew what he was getting at.

He smiled back.  “We won’t really know for a long time, maybe.  That’s the great part.  Let’s be alert and try to make it everything it can be—the book and whatever else is unfolding.”

Exactly.  We were writing a book.  That was certainly true.  Our progress would be marked by the number of words we committed to paper, the quality of the writing and the results of it—in terms of getting copies out to people and, hopefully, changing lives.  But we would also be getting to know one another more, in a way that could set the stage for other work we might do together.  We would also be sharing space and time during which world events would unfold that we might hear of together and react to jointly—or at least affect one another’s thinking about.  We would likely be meeting one another’s family and friends and, perhaps, establishing meaningful connections with them.  What seemed like time and space and energy devoted to writing—plain and simple—were actually also potentially fueling future pages or chapters of our lives that we could not yet “see.”

I think it is important to, at minimum, be aware that we don’t know every dimension of what we are “living through” at any one moment.  We don’t know exactly how the people we meet today will “figure into” our stories tomorrow.  We can’t know whether the project we are working on this week will be the beginning and end of it or lead to a much more important project—either because it stimulates thoughts that manifest themselves later in another way, or because it begins relationships that develop over time, or because it takes us to a new area of the country where whole new sets of adventures unfold.

Being aware of this spiritual dimension to reality allows us to marvel at it, and that is a gift, in and of itself.  But it also allows us to expect and notice and act upon new opportunities that develop from our efforts and relationships, down the road.

 

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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PAIN-2-POWER: THE PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY

When you try to outdistance your past, instead of turning to look at it and understand it, you will find that it can do damage to your future and that of your children, and perhaps their children as well.  The very pain you deny can become your destiny—and theirs.

That’s why it is your moral responsibility to do your level best to open the early chapters of your life story and dwell especially on those passages and pages and themes that initially cause you the greatest anxiety.  Only by doing so can you overcome the life events and losses which you unconsciously believe have the power have the power to overwhelm you.  The truth is that you are strong enough to look deeply at everything you have survived.  Doing so will only make you stonger, and living with truth and power is the greatest gift you can give the people you love.

When I hosted my nationally syndicated talk show, I counseled a man named Larry.  Larry’s three daughters and ex-wife had very little to do with him anymore.   He was a large man in his sixties, with powerful hands and a gravelly voice.  He had run his home a lot like a jail, with rigid rules and violent punishments.  Two of his daughters hadn’t been willing to see him for years and had kept their own children away from him.  The third had stayed in touch but had kept her distance emotionally.

Why did the daughters ask for my help?  They wanted their father to apologize for what he had done to them, which he had never been willing to do.  They wanted him to admit that he had made big mistakes as a parent and that those mistakes had hurt them deeply.

There was another reason, of course:  with everything they had suffered at his hand, these women still wanted a father.  They wanted the man who had known them from birth, who had been present from the very first pages of their life stories, to be part of their lives again and to become part of the lives of his grandchildren—but only if they could believe in their hearts that he had changed.

When a man in his sixties shows up for a meeting—on television—with his three adult daughters, knowing they are intent on detailing the abuse he meted out to them as little girls, it means he has decided to stop running from the past.  It mean that, at some level, he knows that only the truth can redeem him.  So I had real hope Larry would acknowledge that he had caused his daughters to suffer and would say he was sorry.

He didn’t start out doing a good job on either score.  He denied having threatened his daughters with a stick.  He denied having pulled one of his daughter’s hair.  He denied physically abusing their mother in front of them.  He told them it was time to “move on” and put the past behind them.

His daughters ended up in tears, screaming at him.  He was traumatizing them all over again, essentially telling them their memories were fabricated and their pain was contrived.

The reason the story didn’t end that way is that I reminded myself of my core belief—there is not original evil left in the world; everyone is just recycling pain.  Using that belief as my guide, I stopped pressing Larry to admit he had abused his daughters and shifted my focus to help him admit that he had been abused.  I asked him the question:  “Who hurt you?  Were you hit—or worse—as a child?”

That question elicited genuine emotion from him—a combination of anger and sadness.  His jaw churned even as his eyes filled up with tears.  “Sure, I got hit,” he said.  “My father used a stick.  His father used barbed wire.  Okay?”

At that instant, Larry’s daughters began listening in a whole new way.  A furrow in one of their brows.  A slight tilting of one daughter’s head.  A tear running down the third’s cheek.

I moved closer to Larry because I knew that the future of his relationship with his daughters was at stake and that he needed to know it.  “There are moments that call for remarkable courage in life,” I told him.  “There are moments when you have to see the truth and be willing to speak it.  They can work miracles and change lives.  But when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

He held my gaze.

“Your father did what he did,” I said.  “That’s an issue for another day.  But today, your daughters deserve an apology.  Because you hurt them.”

Several seconds passed in silence, then Larry showed the only kind of heroism a person can show in this world.  He began living the truth.  He turned pain into power.  “I made big mistakes,” he told his daughters, with tears starting to come again.  “I did things to you that were wrong.  Inexcusable.  And I’m sorry for them.”

Larry stood up and stepped in front of his three daughters.  And one by one, they got up and hugged him.

A man in his sixties had, within an hour, faced pain stored away from childhood, pain buried so deep it had dragged his relationships with his daughters down with it.  And when he brought it to the surface, far from being destroyed by it, he learned it was a gift powerful enough to bring his daughters back into his life.

Buried treasures await you, too, when you resolve to confront your buried pain.  Your pain can be transformed—by an alchemy of the soul—into your power.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH IS AN EPIC BATTLE

Make no mistake about it:  Embracing your truth and becoming the person you were meant to be is a war.  You should be in a fighting mood.  Not only are you opposing your own instinct to avoid the psychological pain involved with significant change, but you are opposing the instincts of others who may well discourage your exploration, especially if it puts them in touch with their own truths.  And you are opposing the culture we live in that offers you every imaginable way to remain out of touch with the underlying psychological patterns that are limiting you, preventing you from freeing yourself to pursue your most heartfelt hopes and dreams.

It may be in the narrow interests of your business partner or spouse or friends or a parent to preserve the status quo and tell you it’s silly to reevaluate your life, and that you should just be happy with the way things are.  But that is not in your best interest.

It may be in the best interest of insurance companies and some doctors to quickly prescribe medications when you feel anxious or down about your direction in life, but it is in your interest to make sure that you don’t opt for quick fixes (or certainly not for those alone) and also embark upon a real exploration of who you are and where your buried treasures of true self-esteem and self-possession are to be found.

Becoming the complete, confident, self-actualized person you deserve to be doesn’t mean just finding yourself; it means winning yourself back from forces aligned to keep your full potential hidden from you.

You can defeat them all handily.  Because nothing is more powerful than a commitment to know your own life story thoroughly, including its early chapters and to imagine the most fulfilling and impactful ones that should unfold next.  Keep moving with courage toward your truth and destiny, and ultimately nothing will be able to stand in your way.

Ask yourself this question:  If you were watching a movie in which the main character had your life story and was confronting your challenges, what kinds of growth and achievement in that character would make you leave the theatre smiling?

All that awaits you when you join the epic battle to become yourSELF.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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What Do You Want Your Epitaph to Say?

Okay . . . did that get your attention?  I hope so.  That was my goal.  Because I want you to focus on what really matters in life.  And the way you want your epitaph (the words describing you, after your death) to read might help you do just that.

First, it’s worth noting what never seems to be included in an epitaph.  It never seems to say how someone always prioritized work over all else or how someone managed to stay stafe from all controversy.

Epitaphs focus on powerful relationships, heartfelt beliefs, deep interests and treasured goals.  That is what life, it turns out, seems to be made of.  Because that is what ends up making the cut when it comes time to write the story of a person’s life.

What will yours include?  What do you most want it to include?  And why not do that inventory today and go about living your life in accordance with its last page, rather than assuming an infinite number of pages remain ahead?

Which relationships do you believe should be mentioned in your epitaph?  Why not enrich those in some way over the coming weeks (and not wait longer)?

Which issues and positions really matter to you in the world?  Why not take a step this week or next week to put some of your time and energy into advancing them?

Which of your interests make you feel most alive when you think of them or pursue them?  Art?  Literature? Economics?  Why not let your mind luxuriate by focusing for at least a few hours a week on those interests?

What goal or goals really, truly speak to your heart of hearts? Why not take one step—just one step—in the direction of actualizing that goal (or one of those goals) during the next 72 hours?

Focusing on the end can be a beginning of committing to yourSELF.  And, ultimately, becoming yourself, the person you were meant to be from all time, is what matters in this life.

Carpe Diem.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

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