Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Thoughts on Memorial Day

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."
George Washington

Since last Memorial Day much has changed for me.  Shortly after Memorial Day a few years back my dad passed.  He now spends his time at rest at a National Veteran’s Cemetery in Bushnell Florida.  His message on love remains strong in me. I cannot think of a greater example of unconditional love than giving your life in service to your country.  Today is Memorial Day, the day we set aside to remember all those who gave their lives in service to defend freedom.  In our country, we do a great job at building memorials.  When visiting Washington DC, my family and I always make it a point to visit The Vietnam Wall, the WWII Memorial, The Korean Memorial, The War Nurse Memorial and several others which are symbols of our nation’s desire to remember our fallen heroes.

At these hallowed places, we can see and even trace the names of those in uniform who gave their lives in defense of our country.  My cousin resides on panel E18 of the Vietnam Wall. 

Memorial Day is a special holiday.  It’s the single day we honor all those who died in service to our nation but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts. 

Instead of seeing stone monuments, or names on a granite wall, many of us see the faces of those who gave their all.

For many years, over the Memorial Day weekend I rode my Harley to Washington DC for Rolling Thunder. It’s an event that hundreds of thousands of military veterans participate in by riding their motorcycles to Washington DC over the Memorial Day weekend.  Several years ago, my best friend, now a retired Army Colonel, my wife and I road our bikes to DC for Rolling Thunder.  My friend had just gotten back from a series of difficult deployments.  He had secured vehicle passes for Arlington National Cemetery.  We road our motorcycles into the cemetery stopping along the way at many of the grave sites.  It was extremely humbling and in many ways, shook me to the bone.  The Rolling Thunder ride that sticks with me the most is the ride my son, my brother in law and I made right after my son returned from an Enduring Freedom deployment.  I remember standing there by our bikes – my brother-in-law a Vietnam Vet, myself a Cold War Vet and my son an Enduring Freedom Iraqi War vet.  We stood there, smoking our fat cigars that we had saved for this moment. It was hard not to think about how lucky each of us were, how proud I was to be standing there with them and how extremely proud I was of my son. Most of all, I was grateful that my son was there as a veteran of war and not a memory of war. 

There have been so many who have sacrificed their lives in the defense of our freedom.  When walking through the many war memorials you see the many young men who perished with their ships in Pearl Harbor.  You see the faces of Navy nurses who, through the many wars and conflicts, provided care amid the chaos.  You see the brave faces of those men and women who died in Vietnam and Korea, whose sacrifices went unrecognized for so many years because they were the face of unpopular conflicts.

On this day, I find myself thinking about the families and friends, people I know, and the ones we set aside this special day to celebrate their legacies.

It seems to me that for a long time, Memorial Day seemed like just another day off work.  For many its opening day of the community pool or the beginning of summer vacation.  Over the last several years there seems to be a collective shift in our thinking, a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making has hit home.  Once again Memorial Day is becoming an ingrained part of the American experience.  Maybe it’s the lessons learned from the Vietnam conflict, maybe it’s the shared experience of seeing our young men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or maybe it’s even the many movies and reality TV shows that shed new light on the real sacrifices our service members make.  Or, maybe it’s people like myself who have served after the Vietnam war but are old enough to remember the friends and family lost in that conflict.

Whatever the reasons are, something has changed about the way Americans now think about their heroes. That shift transcends politics, cultural differences and religion.  President Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”  A key component of our nation’s greatness lies in our ability to honor, appreciate, and cherish all those who died to ensure our freedom.

Memorial Day, is our day to say thank you to those generations who have foot the bill; to those who have paid so dearly with their lives.  When you gather today with family and friends think about how you can extend the same reverence you feel today throughout the rest of the year.  Think about how to instill the tradition of this special day in the generations to come?  How do we ensure that Memorial Day continues with the profound reverence it deserves?

The following are three things you can do to ensure Memorial Day continues from generation to generation.
·         First, play a part in teaching others about the sacrifices made so our freedoms and liberties endure.  Help future generations understand that service to our country is among the most noble of endeavors.
·         Second, find ways to ensure the legacies of our heroes endure.  Our heroes are worth more than a 20-second sound-bite on the evening news.  Their history deserves telling and re-telling.
·         Third, continue to gather together to pay homage to our fallen heroes on this special day. 

If you treat Memorial Day as a special day of reverence others will.

Memorial Day is the day we set aside to honor those military members who are gone but will never be forgotten. As a veteran, I have assumed the unspoken duty to remind my friends, family, neighbors, children, and fellow veterans about the actions of our fallen heroes and the sacrifices they have made.  Memorial Day is the day we celebrate the lives and legacies of those we have lost, those we will never forget and those who will always be revered.

You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 100.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RESILIENCE: The Fifth Trait Of Mental Toughness

"Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly."
Robert F. Kennedy
How quick are you to give up? Are you willing to give up or give in when the going gets tough?  Your resilience is your unwillingness to give up.  Myself and many of my military friends have a saying; never give in, never give up, never surrender.  The thing about this saying is even after years since getting out of the military it remains relevant in my life.  It’s something I continue to live by.  

Many of the challenges most of us face in life are not life or death situations even though they might seem so at the time. However, many of the situations are very difficult at best and many can be life changing with profound effects on who we are. Having the ability to take on and face these challenges, bounce back from setbacks or failures and continue to move towards your goals has everything to do with your resilience or persistence to succeed.

Those who are successful in life and accomplish challenging goals are those who are willing to keep pushing forward through the heartache, hardships, pain, and self-doubt until they succeed.  They are simply willing to never give in, never give up and never surrender.

There is a special forces instructor that tells a story about candidates reporting to special forces training.  Before a required forced march with full gear, candidates would often tell him that they were triathlon competitors, marathon runners, have black belts in martial arts and that they would finish at the front of the group.  When the candidates were done predicting where they would finish the instructor would simply say, “That’s impressive.  We’ll have to find out if you can do it when your socks are wet.”

After looking at thirty years of who made it through the program and who didn’t the instructor had found that 50% of the candidates dropped out after the forced march that included an overnight march through wetlands where the candidate’s socks got wet.

In other words, it doesn't matter what your prior experiences are, your achievements, your physical conditioning or your level of endurance rather, what matters is your willingness to persist, your level of resilience, your ability to bounce back after setbacks like wet socks.

In my life, I have learned that most people stop working at the first sign of fatigue or challenge. They simply quit.  However, an unusual thing happens when they decide to keep pushing forward even when they are totally spent out.  The fatigue that was so debilitating seems to disappear, they get a second, third and fourth wind allowing them to continue.  Individuals who are resilient find they have stockpiles of energy they can call on when they demand it. The ability to call on this energy to continue is where many of us fall short. 

Only a very few ever make serious demands of themselves. We see this in business, in sports, in education, in relationships and just about everywhere we look. A great many of us miss succeeding at the greater accomplishments we can achieve because we give up too soon. We sit down, we give in, we give up, we surrender at the first signs of anything hard or challenging.

Resilience is the glue that binds motivation, confidence, focus, and composure together providing you undeniable mental toughness. If you are unwilling to bounce back after a setback, it doesn't matter how developed your other mental toughness traits are, you fail. Vince Lombardi said it best when he said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

Resilience is the trait that enables some people to be knocked down and come back even stronger.  Instead of letting setbacks and failures overcome them and take their resolve, resilient people find a way to get back up. Here are four keys to building strong resilience in your life:

  • Have a positive attitude - a positive attitude gets you half way to the finish.  A negative attitude kills your start.
  • Be optimistic – see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
  • Control your emotions – when you respond or react to difficult challenges with emotions you never win. You will fail to think your response through when you leave it to your emotions.
  •  See failures and setbacks - as a form of helpful feedback rather than defeat.
Even after the most significant of misfortunes, resilient people can change course and continue moving towards achieving what they set out to achieve.

You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 99.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

COMPOSURE: The Fourth Trait Of Mental Toughness

"The man who masters himself is free."

When the going gets tough do you get going?  They say, when the going gets tough the tough get going.  Are you tough?  Your composure is your ability to remain calm and in control when the going gets tough.  Your composure in difficult situations many times is what will be what matters in whether you win or lose.  Composure can be defined as your ability to stay in control of yourself in a manner that allows you to continue to perform at optimum levels, regardless of the situation.  

As we grow and learn through our experiences we learn how to respond in certain situations.  It works like this.  Your brain and mind are two separate things. The body obeys the brain and the brain obeys the mind.  As a result, there are certain emotions and reactions your brain automatically produces in response to certain situations.  Knowing how all this works and what responses will occur during certain situations gives you an advantage.  This advantage enables you to deal with expected responses by overriding your brain’s response allowing you to control your actions.

Composure enables you to have clarity of your thoughts and the ability to maintain your focus during difficult situations. It promotes sound decision making when it counts most.  Your brain will tell you that you are too cold, too hot, too tired, too weak, too wet, too old or you just don’t have what it takes. Individuals who listen to these messages coming from their brain are the ones who lose their composure, their focus, eventually give up and in the end quit. However, those who can maintain their composure are just the opposite; they maintain their focus, they continue with the task at hand and do their very best to succeed. By remaining composed, they can dig deep within themselves to find the strength they need to finish.

Over the years, there have been many times my brain has told me I just couldn't go on but my mind told me to continue, don't stop. At some point, we all experience situations in which our brain tells us we just can’t go on. In those situations, we must ensure our mind remains in control providing us with the composure that allows us to continue until we have overcome whatever the challenge is.

When we can train our mind in a way that allows us to remain composed, regardless of the situation, we ensure our ability to maintain our self-control.  To a large degree, our ability to succeed depends on a mind that is conditioned to deal with difficult or tough situations in a composed, self-controlled, manner. The important thing to remember is that if you can stay composed, you can better recognize situations that trigger your brain’s response mechanisms and psychological responses that directly impact your ability to perform.  When you know this, you are better prepared to deal with challenging situations. 

There are many examples of how composure has defined past leaders, great athletes and scholars.  Lincoln is a good example.  During his most trying hours he remained patient, poised and maintained his self-control which history shows made all the difference.

If you fail to maintain your composure, you are not only likely to injure others, but it’s certain you will injure yourself. The easiest way to remain composed in difficult situations is to remember the three keys to composure:

Control your Thoughts
Control your Temper
Control your Tongue

When you control these, you win without regret.

Composure is the fourth key in developing your mental toughness.  In next week's blog, I'll be discussing resilience the fifth and final trait you need to develop your mental toughness. 

You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 98.

Friday, May 12, 2017

FOCUS: The Third Trait of Mental Toughness

“Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.” 
Colin Powell
Growing up I was often told to keep my eye on the prize.  I heard it from my parents, my scoutmaster, coaches, while in the military and in business.  But, it wasn't until much later in my life did I really understand how important this simple phrase was to my success.  As I matured and began to pay closer attention to successful people I realized that successful people maintain an unrelenting focus on what matters in life regardless of the distractions going on around them.  I learned that they focused on their successes rather than their failures.  I learned that successful people are keenly focused on the next steps needed to realize their goals rather than wasting time on the many distractions life throws at them. Successful people have an ability to consistently be proactive in their pursuit of success regardless of life’s distractions.

On a scale of 1 to 10 where do you rank your ability to stay focused? Focus is your ability to stay homed in on what’s important while blocking out everything else. Focus is necessary if you want to develop mental toughness that enables you to achieve your goals.  It is a trait that is important if you want to stay on track when undertaking any challenge. 

When developing your mental toughness remember that a great deal of it comes down to your ability to establish effective personal habits such as focus. One way to improve your ability to focus is by setting your sights on achieving small victories. When I made the decision to lose weight I didn't start out by deciding I was going lose 68 pounds in 6 months. I just set my focus on losing a pound or two a day.  I didn't set out vowing I would eat right for the next 6 months, rather I set my target to eat right and exercise one day at a time.  By doing this, I could focus on losing a pound or two one day at a time.  I didn't let myself get distracted by what seemed an impossible task over an impossible amount of time.  I figured at the end of the first day that if I could focus on doing what I needed to do that day I could do it again the next day.  I created new eating habits and I was motivated at beating myself each day, day by day.  If you can do it the first day, you can do the second day, and the third day and so on.

A coach that I coached with once asked me “How do you eat an elephant?”  At the time, I told him I had no idea.  He laughed and told me, “you eat an elephant one bite at a time!” In other words, to succeed all we really needed to do to win was to focus on the task at hand, nothing else, and over time we would succeed.  I cannot tell you how many times this simple question proved its worth to me.  To win those small victories establish a daily schedule for yourself where you take specific actions in a measurable way. Once you develop your routine, stick to it so you can begin winning small victories every day. When you focus on your behavior, the results will follow. 

Here’s an easy way to remember what you need to stay focused:

F is for Find – identify what you need to improve on to be successful.

O is for Organize – organize an action plan that helps you improve upon what you identified as needing improvement to achieve success.

C is for Collect – you need to research and collect the data you need to move forward with your action plan.

U is for Understanding – you need to understand all the variables and potential risks involved in making your improvements.

S is for Start – you need to execute your action plan as you have laid it out.  The only way you focus is to start.

Focus is another key in developing your mental toughness.  In my next blog, I will discuss composure and why it is another important trait you need when developing your mental toughness.  You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 97.

Monday, May 1, 2017

CONFIDENCE: The Second Trait of Mental Toughness

"Confidence is the feeling you sometimes have before you fully understand the situation."
On a scale of 1 to 10 where do you score your confidence? The hardest thing for many is understanding what confidence is and how it plays a vital role in developing mental toughness. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines confidence as:
  1.  “A feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances,

  2.  “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way,” and…

  3.  “the quality or state of being certain.”
I define confidence as my personal belief that I have what it takes to overcome any obstacles that get in my way as I go after my goals. I may win and I may lose but the important thing to remember is that I have the confidence to at least try.

What I have learned about confidence is that when you have a high level of confidence you are able to bounce back from setbacks, mistakes, and poor performance much quicker than those with low confidence levels.

Highly successful people normally have a high level of confidence in their ability to win but, aren’t born this way. I like to say they’ve earned it and others say they've learned it. They gain their confidence through repeatedly putting themselves in the game, taking the risks and learning from their failures. Overtime, knowing that you have been down a similar road before, studying and learning from those past experiences can be a great confidence builder in whatever you do – business deals, sports, relationships, education and in just about any endeavor you can think of.

The thing about confidence is that it is an essential quality if you want to succeed in building mental toughness. I believe it is one of the most critical traits, not only in developing mental toughness but is essential when setting high goals and persevering to achieve them.

Another thing I have learned about confidence is that the saying “birds of a feather flock together” is true.  Whether it was in business, coaching sports or during my time in the military, confident people tended to associate both personally and professionally with others that have the same high levels of confidence. I have also learned that, “you become who you associate with.” I have observed individuals with low levels of confidence assigned to teams having highly confident team members transformed into confident individuals.

Your confidence shines through in the way you carry yourself which most times is the determining factor in whether you win or lose. When you confidently demonstrate self-control over your emotions, your actions and the situation, others take notice. They recognize you as a leader that they are willing to trust and follow.

Individuals with low confidence complain about everything. They will typically show off to get attention and recognition. Many times, they will turn to destructive habits such as drug or alcohol abuse. They constantly seek praise or approval. The biggest and most damaging trait of those with low confidence is self-pity which guarantees defeat in whatever the situation. Once you let thoughts of quitting into your mind, you are halfway to failing. When you feel sorry for yourself, you begin the process of destroying your confidence and guaranteeing your own downfall.

Your confidence is the result of your life experiences and actions. Your confidence can be increased but, it takes work. The good thing is it can be changed in months, even weeks. There is no guarantee you will be able to improve your confidence, everyone is different. There is no set formula but, if you work hard at the following three things you might be surprised:
  1. Set personal and professional goals. Everyone needs a starting point and a target. Most importantly you simply need to decide it’s time to get started on whatever it is.

  2. Prepare yourself. Once you know what your starting point and target are you need to chart your course. What’s it going to take? I have found that finding out what it takes to achieve the goal is a confidence builder in itself.

  3. Visualize your success. Your success depends on your ability to visualize yourself succeeding. If you can’t you fail but, if you can then anything is possible.
You can directly change your level of confidence, all you need to do is believe it.

Click Here to listen to the Podcast.