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Tag Archives: Legacy

How you made them feel – growing the character of the Habits.

Think back over this past week with me for a minute. What encounters have you had with people? Think about one really positive encounter, and one really difficult one. What stands out as you remember those exchanges? It may well be that there are specific words or phrases that stick in your mind. Perhaps words of affirmation and appreciation that really meant a lot and hit the spot most needing nurtured. Or equally, harsh words that seemed to pierce straight through your defenses and stab you with criticism or judgement. But I will bet a fair bit that what stays with you the most when you consider both of those encounters are the emotions you were left with.

It was Maya Angelou who famously and insightfully observed:
How you made them feel

For me, this is at the heart of the transition between the internal Habits 1-3 and the external Habits 4-6 in Stephen Covey‘s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that we are currently exploring.

(Habit Number 7 stands on it’s own, and you will have to wait for the New Year for that one! It is very close to my heart, for many of the reasons that I have explored in writing in this blog over the past couple of years, and in part refers back to my training and experience as a physiotherapist. So I’d love you to stay tuned…..)


I am aware that in summarising the Habits, and bringing my own perspective on them, I am seeking to condense the considerable thinking and wisdom in the original book. As such, there is much I will miss, and I commend the book itself to you to read as it really is a life-changing gem.

What is interesting is the emphasis on character. I mentioned this at the start of this series, that the Seven Habits book is much more a book on character and inner personal development than it is a management or systems book. As we move into the second half of the book, there is a transition piece that looks at key issues of character and the foundational importance of developing the first three habits before seeking to implement Habits 4, 5 and 6.

The latter Habits all talk about Doing. The first Habits are about Being, and being always comes before doing if we want to do what we do with any integrity and self respect.

Dr Covey himself observes –

The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are.”

Which is another way to express Maya Angelou’s comment. Because when people remember how you made them feel, what they are picking up on is who you are, your character. And our character can change. Or, to be more accurate, we can choose proactively to grow and develop our character to be more of the person we want to be.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Taking time to understand the other person – to speak their love language not your own – and not to project on to them what we think we would want in their situation. What does it mean to really get into their skin and understand where they are coming from, and to then choose to behave towards them in terms of that understanding?
  • Linked to this, not making assumptions and taking time to clarify expectations – how often do we get ourselves into real bother with our colleague, boss, partner, family member because we each have different expectations of the situation and have not clarified them? It takes time, courage and honesty to ensure that expectations on both sides are clear and explicit. It is easier to assume that our expectations will be self-evident, but how often does this lead to confusion, misunderstanding and resentment?
  • This of course is about integrity – being true to yourself and also true to what you say. Keep commitments, especially small ones. (And especially with children; they really notice broken commitments, and quickly learn not to trust those involved – a very damaging life lesson). Be true to who you are and be consistent in what you say and do, whether to people’s faces or behind their backs. Not easy but central to good character.
  • Notice and attend to little things. It is often the accumulation of myriad little things that create the biggest impression in relationships, both for good and bad. My wise old grandfather would often say – “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.” Actually, sometimes it does, but the price is worth it in terms of personal integrity and character.
  • Apologise quickly and sincerely when we get it wrong. Having the courage to say, “I got it wrong” and be specific about how we did so goes a long way to building integrity in relationships and strengthening character

How do you make people feel? Quite an inflammatory question I know, but worthy of some inner musings this week.

Going back to school (after all these years…)

What would you say to yourself of 30 years ago?

Life skills at school

Life skills at school

This was the intriguing situation I found myself in last week. Along with three other ‘grown ups’, I was asked to share what I considered to be essential life skills with approximately 100 16/17 year olds. These were the new S6 pupils at elder daughter’s secondary school, and the event was part of an induction week in preparation for their final year at school.

Our brief was to talk about our own careers, and share the life skills we believed were most important for these youngsters to learn as they embarked on life beyond the confines of school. At face value, this was quite a straightforward request. We could all have talked off the cuff about how we ended up doing what we do and being where we are. But as we discussed our respective inputs before the event, we agreed that there was rather more to this than first met the eye.

What would you say to a 16 year old that would be relevant, of interest, and would catch their attention?

What would you say that would stay with them beyond the event? That would go deep enough to penetrate the layers of post modern, consumerist, instant social media culture in which they live?

As it happens, and with no prior consultation, each of us said a version of the same thing

the importance of hard work, of developing good character and communication skills, of growing in self awareness and self confidence.

Learning resilience. Believing in who you are on the inside, and not in the false persona of you that has to have the latest and the newest whatever-it-is because that is what society tells you.

Learning not to be motivated by instant gratification but exercising self control and self discipline – be it in the areas of money, studying, health. So un-cool and un-glamorous, but heartfelt and impassioned pleas from all of us.

I left school nearly 30 years ago. What would I have taken on board and actually absorbed at that age that would have positively influenced the life I have led since?

My words to them were that they had far more power than they realised – power to be self aware, power to listen with a view to understanding, power to delay gratification, and power to choose.

This last for me is key, and ties in with my musings here over recent weeks:

No one else can take responsibility for my life except me.

The only aspect of life that I can consistently work on over which I have control is – me.

I can choose how I behave, how I speak, how I respond to challenges and difficulties, how I prioritise my time.

Would I have heard that and taken that on board at age 16? Would you?

How prepared am I to take that on board now?

This week I had a joyous catching-up with a precious friend from college. We laughed a lot about what we were like then, and talked about what life is like now and how our perspectives have changed. Much has happened in the intervening 26 years, and for us both, the foundational principle we have learned is that life is transient and very precious.

And it struck me that I, more than ever, need to heed my closing words on life skills to the S6 young folk –

take some time to consider not only what you want to do in life, but who you want to be.

Choosing to be brave

Choosing to be brave

Choosing to be brave

Being brave does not necessarily mean doing something extraordinary or fearless.

Sometimes being brave simply means choosing to stay in a difficult situation.

Perhaps you are in a job that is really difficult, but the difference you are making is worth the cost. For you, being brave means staying and committing and bringing your best.

Perhaps you are in a relationship that is stagnant, fraught with a history of hurts and resentments. Both trapped behind walls of mistrust, fear, lack of hope of change. Leaving might seem like the easier option, but perhaps for you, choosing to be brave means choosing to stay. Choosing to gradually take down the walls, seek help, persevere with making changes that are hard and costly but ultimately will restore connection and hope.

Perhaps being brave simply means choosing to have that conversation with your partner, when you would prefer to avoid the issue altogether. After all, you are both coming from entrenched positions built up over years of misunderstandings and hurts, and why would you choose to step across into no-man’s land and risk being vulnerable when all you fear is more conflict?

Because you are choosing to be brave.

Brave sometimes means speaking up. When I opened the lid on our experiences of depression last year, a common reaction to our story was of being brave to talk about it. But mental health needs to be talked about, and the more people choose to be brave, the more people are likely to find the courage they need to seek help and support.

Brave doesn’t mean foolhardy or foolish, nor does it mean the absence of fear (although my personal view is that bungee jumping does fit into this category!).

I recently completed a Go Ape course with a wonderful group of crazy ladies. I was motivated, in part, by being at least 20 years older than the rest of the group, and not wanting my age to let me down. I am not keen on heights, but I do like a challenge, so this seemed a good opportunity to overcome some inner anxieties. All the way round the course, on tiny platforms and ropes and planks up in the trees, we cheered each other on and provided the verbal energy each required. My wobbliest moment – quite literally – was trying to jump off a platform 70 feet off the ground into fresh air, trusting that the swing would hold.

I can’t do this, you’re going to have to help me”

I shouted to my dear friend and partner round the course.

Without her loud, encouraging and unstinting affirmation of her belief in my abilities, chances are I would still be in that tree even now. That day, none of us were brave in isolation – one person’s fear was countered by another’s bravery and encouragement to complete the challenge. Choosing to be brave sometimes involves seeking endorsement from a cheer-leading friend.

Sometimes being brave means being willing to listen without an agenda, rather than jumping in to give your view.

Sometimes, being brave means committing day in day out to the mundane, repetitive and distinctly unglamorous aspects of raising a family with acceptance, and choosing to bring the best of you each day to the task. Because what can be more important than investing in the people most dear to you?

Being brave for some is standing up to injustice.

Or opening your home to a stranger in need.

Being brave can be as simple as responding to a friend’s inquiry with “You know what, I’m not OK – can we talk?”.

Mostly, choosing to be brave is choosing to live today as if it is the most important day, and to bring your very best.

Thank people before it’s too late – or, a good goodbye.

Thank people before it's too lateThis week saw us say goodbye to some dear friends. It felt like one of those before-and-after moments: a defining goodbye that marked the shift in life before-and-after them. I cried many tears at the goodbying, and startled myself somewhat at the extent and depth of my sobs – I cry easily and often (it can be a real nuisance) and many who know me know this about me, but even so.

I have been pondering deeply about what was at the root of this volcanic well of tears. And what crystallised for me is that these dear friends, these lovely generous hearted people, have played a key role in my own inner growth over the many years I have known them. Over the past two decades, I have learned to let go of lies about myself, grown in self acceptance, gained more confidence and freedom to be the me I was made to be, and stepped out into a new career. And I realise that this in part has been because of my participation in events and experiences that these dear friends made happen. I am deeply indebted to them for their creativity, inspiration, facilitation and for often stretching me quite a long way out of my comfort zone.

I have been able to express my gratitude to them, through the tears and in writing. It has been very important to be able at least in part to articulate specifics of how they have impacted my life and what a difference they have made.

But I wonder – how many other people are there in my life who are also significant, precious, dearly loved, and how often do I thank them for their role in my life? Now these friends are neither dead nor dying, and we will see them again. But how often do we wait until the person is dead to fully appreciate out loud what they meant to us or tell them that we love them – and by then it is too late.

Between MB (My Beloved as he is known here) and I, we have received emails and letters that have expressed gratitude to us for what we have meant to the sender, and why. These are precious and treasured communications. They have often come out of the blue, sometimes prompted by a significant birthday.

Recently, I heard about a project called The Living Eulogy Box on the radio (Radio 4 Saturday Live, Feb 25). The premise is a simple one – to tell people when they are very much alive and well how much they mean to us, and to honour and thank them for their role in our lives, of whatever magnitude, rather than waiting till they are dead. By that time, for the deceased, it is too late to know of and enjoy the recognition and affirmation of others – how much more would it impact us whilst alive?

Perhaps this is something we could choose to do in Lent, which can be for some a time of reflection – to thank people before it is too late.

Perhaps there is someone in your life who means the world to you but you’ve never told them – you just kind of assume they know, right? Or someone who made a positive, significant difference to your life at a certain point, no matter how far back, but you’ve never let them know?

MB had a card a few years back from a friend, thanking him for his role in her life when they were students more than 20 years previously. He was deeply touched and humbled to read the words, as to him, he was just being her friend, but to her, it meant so much more, and she took the time and trouble to write and thank him.

Thank people before it’s too late – let’s not wait for the goodbyes to tell people how much they matter to us.

What is your legacy this week?

What would your legacy be this week?

What would your legacy be this week?

Legacy. I have started counting the number of times that word is used by news people in the same context as the Olympics. It’s quite a fun game…try it next time you watch the news and see how often the words ‘Olympics’ and ‘legacy’ appear in the same sentence.

What has been my own legacy for this past week, I wonder? With my family, I have been a wife and mum who has been tired, preoccupied, negative and distinctly lacking in enthusiasm for life. Not what I would want to be known for or leave behind.

I am not planning on departing this earth anytime soon. But I was struck by fact that how we choose to react to the events of the day has a huge impact on those around us, and how representative is that of who we want to be, and how we want to be known?

I would much prefer my legacy to be along the lines of –

bringing out the best in folk

seeking to encourage and speak life in small and larger ways to people

an honest, real practical problem-solver who generally sees the hope in any situation

But this week has definitely not seen me living as that person, and – of course – my Nearest and Dearest are the ones who suffer the most.

Nothing dramatic or terrible has happened. But over the past few of months there have been some fairly significant challenges in several major areas of life for both MB and myself (My Beloved as he is known here). The cumulative effect has somewhat worn me down. And in that weariness my response has been to become preoccupied, negative, and serious. And in displaying such characteristics, I see I am negatively impacting those around me too.

Not what I want, not who I am – not my legacy of choice.

I am not proposing a Pollyanna blind optimism approach here – ghastly and really unhelpful, especially for those in seriously dire straits.

But the question of legacy has made me reflect on my own choices of behaviour, and where I choose to focus my sight. Call it mindfulness, faith, gratitude, meditation – being aware of the moment and practising being grateful does shift the focus from trials and challenges onto a bigger, more hope-full perspective.

Many things have fallen apart/broken/fallen off walls in our house in the last couple of months. There are associated frustrations, time and expense ahead which neither MB nor I have the energy or time for. But we have a house, we have great friends and wonderful neighbours. And there are gifted people out there who can fix broken things.

Right now, MB would most benefit from me being emotionally available, supportive and encouraging. He needs my problem solving and proactivity in helping him process and structure some of his work challenges. If we are taking an in-this-together approach to life and career, my negativity and preoccupation with the woes and worries around us will simply bring him down and be entirely counterproductive.

Both daughters need a mum who is available, positive and has a balanced approach (guffaws from those reading this who know me!). They need me to provide stability and loving acceptance in the very wobbly and unsettling world of teenagerness. That is much more the kind of legacy I want – and I am more in control of that than I sometimes would like to think.

I choose how I respond to events, even if I don’t choose the events themselves.

What about you? What is life throwing at you at present, and how are you responding?

And what do your responses say about who you are, what matters most to you, and what sort of legacy you want to leave this week?