Archive for personal growth

I believe it is a normal human desire to be concerned about how we look on the outside. There’s nothing wrong with that. What can get us in trouble is worrying more about how we look on the outside than about how we really are on the inside. Our reputation comes from what others believe about our outside. Our character represents who we are on the inside. And the good news is that if you focus on being better on the inside than the outside, over time you will also become better on the outside. Why do I say that?

The Inside Influences the Outside

More than twenty-five hundred years ago, the Proverbs writer noted that as we think in our hearts, so we become. That ancient idea has been both echoed by other wisdom writers and confirmed by modern science. Coaches teach the importance of visualization for winning. Psychologists point out the power of self-image on people’s actions. Doctors note the impact of positive attitude and hope on healing.

What we believe really matters. We reap what we sow. What we do or neglect to do in the privacy of our daily lives impacts who we are. If you neglect your heart, mind, and soul, it changes who you are on the outside as well as the inside.

Inside Victories Precede Outside Ones

If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, then someday you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them. In other words, before you can do, you must be.

I have often observed people who seemed to be doing all the right things on the outside, yet they were not experiencing success. When that happens, I usually conclude that something is wrong on the inside and needs to be changed. The right motions outwardly with wrong motives inwardly will not bring lasting progress. Right outward talking with wrong inward thinking will not bring lasting success. Expressions of care on the outside with a heart of hatred or contempt on the inside will not bring lasting peace. Continual growth and lasting success are the result of aligning the inside and the outside of our lives. And getting the inside right must come first—with solid character traits that provide the foundation for growth.

Our Inside Development Is Totally within Our Control

We often cannot determine what happens to us, but we can always determine what happens within us. Jim Rohn said,

Character is a quality that embodies many important traits such as integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, and wisdom. Unlike your fingerprints that you were born with and can’t change, character is something that you create within yourself and must take responsibility for changing.

When we fail to make the right character choices within us, we give away ownership of ourselves. We belong to others—to whatever gains control of us. And that puts us in a bad place. How can you ever reach your potential and become the person you can be if others are making your choices for you?

Doug Firebaugh, author and multi-level marketing expert, says, “Winning in life is more than just money…it’s about winning on the inside…and knowing that you have played the game of life with all you had…and then some.” If you want to be successful, you must prioritize building your inside ahead of your outside.

Several years ago, teenage millionaire phenomenon Farrah Gray wrote a book called Reallionaire. He coined the term to describe “someone who has discovered that there is more to money than having money. A person who understands that success is not just about being rich in your pocket; you have to be rich on the inside, too.” At a tender age, he recognized that money without a strong character foundation can lead not to success but to ruin. If you have any doubt, just look at the number of famous child actors and young pop stars who have crashed and burned. Their stories are often sad because they focused on the externals of life instead of building internally to give themselves a strong foundation when fame and fortune came. Theirs is a fate we need to work hard to avoid by focusing on improving on the inside more than the outside.

From The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth


Traits of a Successful Failure

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“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison

Nobody likes to fail. But if we’re honest, we understand that failure is a part of life. There is no success without some amount of failure. Great inventors like Thomas Edison experience a lot of failures on the way to a successful invention. Even the best baseball players strike out much more often than they hit a home run. Anyone pursuing a goal of value will make mistakes and wrong decisions. So the key is to expect failure, to prepare for it, to be ready turn it into a lesson and a stepping stone to success. There is such a thing as a successful failure.

These are some of the traits of a successful failure:

1. Optimism. Find the benefit in every bad experience.

Thomas Edison redefined the failures in his experiments as “10,000 ways that won’t work.” He expected failure and counted it as one of the costs of finding a way that would work. By finding the benefit in the failure, he was able to keep attempting something great.

Optimism is not limited to a few people as a personality trait. Optimism is a choice. And while it doesn’t guarantee immediate positive results, it does result in higher motivation and stronger character.

2. Responsibility. Change your response to failure by accepting responsibility.

When we fail at something, it’s easy to blame someone or something else. Perhaps the circumstances or the people that we worked with. But failure is a learning opportunity. If I blame someone else, I’m just cheating myself out of that lesson.

Responsibility is more important than reputation. And it tends to lead to reward, which can lead to more responsibility. Your willingness to take responsibility marks you as someone who’s mature and can be trusted to learn from the failure and keep trying.

3. Resilience. Say goodbye to yesterday.

The ability to move on from failure is key to continuing to attempt great things. The mind can only focus on so much, so if we’re still too focused on what we did wrong, we can’t give all of our attention to attempting to do things right.

Here are five behaviors of people who haven’t gotten over past difficulties:

  • Comparison. Either measuring your failures against those of others, or convincing yourself that your circumstances were harder than theirs.
  • Rationalization. Telling yourself and others that you have good reasons for not getting over past hurts and mistakes. Believing that those who encourage you “just don’t understand.”
  • Isolation. Pulling back and keeping yourself separate from others, either to avoid dealing with the issues, or to continue to feel sorry for yourself.
  • Regret. Getting stuck lamenting or trying to fix things that cannot be changed.
  • Bitterness. Feeling like a victim and blaming others for negative outcomes.

4. Initiative. Take action and face your fear.

When we make mistakes and then consider trying again, we all feel some measure of fear. Facing the unknown, we easily come up with a list of things to worry about. But the act of worrying doesn’t help us at all in accomplishing our goals. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.

Just believing that failure can be good isn’t enough to help us succeed. We need to act on that belief and take a step forward again in pursuit of our dream. Only then do we learn from our mistakes and make progress.


A successful failure is a failure that we respond to correctly: by finding the good, taking responsibility, moving on, and taking action. How do you respond to failure? Which of the above characteristics would you benefit from adopting?



On cultivating curiosity

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I love curious people and enjoy spending time with them, conversing with them. Their excitement for knowledge and learning is contagious. I often wonder why more people aren’t curious. So many people seem to be indifferent. Why don’t they ask why? Are some people simply born without the desire to learn? Are some people just mentally lazy? Or does life become so routine for some people that they don’t mind living in a rut, doing the same things day in and day out? Can such people “wake up” their minds and become more curious so that growth becomes more natural to them?

I certainly hope so. I believe so. It’s why I wrote my most recent book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. And it is why I recommend following these suggestions for cultivating curiosity:

1. Believe You Can Be Curious

Many people fill their minds with limiting beliefs. Their lack of personal confidence or self-esteem causes them to create barriers for themselves and put limitations on how and what they think. The result? They fail to reach their potential—not because they lack capacity but because they are unwilling to expand their beliefs and break new ground. We cannot perform outwardly in a way that is inconsistent with how we think inwardly. You cannot be what you believe you aren’t. But here’s the good news: you can change your thinking and as a result, your life.

Give yourself permission to be curious. The single greatest difference between curious, growing people and those who aren’t is the belief that they can learn, grow, and change. As I’ve explained before, you must go after growth. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom will not seek you out. You must go out and acquire it. The best way to do that is to remain curious.

2. Have a Beginner’s Mindset

The way you approach life and learning has nothing to do with your age. It has everything to do with your attitude. Having a beginner’s mindset means wondering why and asking a lot of questions until you get answers. It also means being open and vulnerable. If your attitude is like that of a beginner, you have no image to uphold and your desire to learn more is stronger than the desire to look good. You aren’t as influenced by preset rules or so-called acceptable thinking. Management expert Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” That’s having a beginner’s mindset.

People with a beginner’s mindset approach life the way that a child does: with curiosity. They are like the little girl who kept asking her mother question after question. Finally the mother cried, “For heaven’s sake, stop asking so many questions. Curiosity killed the cat.”

After two minutes of thinking, the child asked, “So, what did the cat want to know?”

3. Make Why Your Favorite Word

Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” The secret to maintaining that “holy curiosity” is to always keep asking why.


In my early years as a leader I thought I was supposed to be an answering machine. No matter what someone asked, I gave direction, exuded confidence, and answered questions with clarity—whether I really knew what I was doing or not! As I matured, I discovered that growing leaders focused on asking questions, not giving answers. The more questions I asked, the better results we got as a team. And the greater my appetite to ask more questions. Today I have a compulsion to pick the brains of the people I meet. I have become a questioning machine.

Speaker and author Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.” Most of the time, focused questions begin with the word why. That word gets to the heart of matters. And it’s important how you ask the question. People with a victim’s mindset ask, “Why me?” not because they want to know, but because they feel sorry for themselves. Curious people ask the question to find solutions so that they can keep moving forward and making progress.

Scientist and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg observed, “One’s first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.” Those are the bookends for continuous growth. Ask why. Explore. Evaluate what you discover. Repeat. That’s a pretty good formula for growth. Never forget, anyone who knows all the answers is not asking the right questions.

From The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Obviously, that isn’t an option for anyone who wants to be successful as a leader.

Good leaders are active, and their actions often put them out front. That often draws criticism. When spectators watch a race, where do they focus their attention? On the front-runners! People watch their every action—and often criticize.

Since criticism is a part of leadership, you need to learn how to handle it constructively.  The following has helped me to deal with criticism, so I pass it on to you.

Know yourself.

Do you really know yourself? Are you aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths? Where do you fall short as a person and leader? Not sure what your weaknesses are? Ask five trustworthy people close to you. They’ll be able to tell you where you come up short.

Know the criticism – and the critics.

When you receive criticism, how do you tell if it’s constructive or destructive? (Some say constructive criticism is when I criticize you, but destructive criticism is when you criticize me!) Here are the questions I ask to get to determine what kind of criticism it is:

  • Who criticized me? Adverse criticism from a wise person is more to be desired than the enthusiastic approval of a fool. The source often matters.
  • How was it given? I try to discern whether the person was being judgmental or whether he gave me the benefit of the doubt and spoke with kindness.
  • Why was it given? Was it given out of a personal hurt or for my benefit? Hurting people hurt people; they lash out or criticize to try to make themselves feel better, not to help the other person.

Stay open to change.

Let’s assume you now know yourself pretty well. You can tell when a criticism is way off-base; maybe it’s directed more at your position than at you. And you know when a criticism is 100% legitimate because it’s about a weakness that you’ve already discovered.

But what about the gray areas? The criticisms that might hold a grain of truth? A good leader stays open to improvement by:

  • Not being defensive,
  • Looking for the helpful grain of truth,
  • Making the necessary changes, and
  • Taking the high road.

Accept yourself.

Jonas Salk, developer of the Salk polio vaccine, had many critics in spite of his incredible contribution to medicine. Of criticism, he observed, “First people will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing really isn’t important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and that what you are doing is very important; but after all, they knew it all the time.”

How do leaders who are out front handle this kind of fickle response from others?

The Serenity Prayer, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, gives direction in this area:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

If you have endeavored to know yourself, and have worked hard to change yourself, then what more can you do?

Forget yourself.

The final step in the process of effectively handling criticism is to stop focusing on yourself. Secure people forget about themselves so they can focus on others. By doing this, they can face nearly any kind of criticism—and even serve the critic.

I try to live out a sentiment expressed by Parkenham Beatty, who advised, “By your own soul learn to live. And if men thwart you, take no heed. If men hate you, have no care: Sing your song, dream your dream, hope your hope and pray your prayer.”

As leaders, we must always be serious about our responsibilities, but it isn’t healthy for us to take ourselves too seriously. A Chinese proverb says, “Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves. They shall never cease to be entertained.”

My friend Joyce Meyer observes, “God will help you be all you can be, but He will never let you be successful at becoming someone else.” We can’t do more than try to be all that we can be. If we do that as leaders, we will give others our best, and we will sometimes takes hits from others. But that’s okay. That is the price for being out front.

Originally posted at John Maxwell on Leadership on June 15, 2010


My favorite time of year

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Happy New Year! I hope your year has begun well.

What is your favorite time of year? Is it Christmas? Is it when you celebrate your birthday? Or when flowers bloom in the spring? Or your summer vacation? Or when the children go back to school? Or the beginning of football season? Or when the leaves change? When is it? I can tell you mine. It’s the week after Christmas.

On Christmas Day in the afternoon, after the grandchildren have finished opening all their presents and all the hoopla has died down, I can hardly contain myself, because I know it’s time for one of the things I love most every year. I steal off to my study while everyone else is watching television or napping. There on my desk waiting for me is my appointment calendar from the preceding year and a yellow legal pad. Starting that afternoon and continuing that week up until New Year’s Eve, I spend time reviewing my calendar. I review every appointment, meeting, commitment, and activity—hour by hour—from the previous 359 days. And I evaluate each of them.

I look carefully at my speaking engagements and consider what I should do more of, what I should do less of, and what I should eliminate altogether.

I look at the growth opportunities I pursued and judge which gave a high return and which didn’t.

I look at all the meetings and appointments I had and determine which ones I should do more of and which I should eliminate.

I consider how much time I spent doing things that I should have delegated to someone else. (I also look at what I delegated and reconsider whether I should pick anything back up or delegate it to someone different.)

I evaluate whether I spent enough time with my family. I also make a list of all the things Margaret and I did together that year, and I take her out to dinner one night so we can reminisce and enjoy them once again. That’s a romantic evening that always ends well!

I try to account for every waking hour I had the previous year. And what’s the value of that? It helps me to develop strategies for the coming year. Because I do this every year (and have for decades), I become more focused, strategic, and effective every year. Even if I have a difficult time or relatively unproductive year compared to what I desired, it’s never a loss, because I learn from it and improve upon it in the coming year. There’s no substitute for being strategic. To maximize growth, you must develop strategies. That’s the Law of Design.

Most people allow their lives to simply happen to them. They float along. They wait. They react. And by the time a large portion of their life is behind them, they realize they should have been more proactive and strategic. I hope that hasn’t been true for you. If it has, then I want to encourage you to develop a stronger sense of urgency and a pro-strategic mind-set. These things will help you plan and develop strategies for your life and growth. It’s not too late to maximize growth in 2013.

Adapted from The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth